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Contemplative spiritual reading - the Christian Lectio Divina

 

Doing spiritual reading and study is a normal part of a spiritual practice. The Christian practice of Lectio Divina can be applied to scriptures of other religions or spiritual teachings generally. It is an approach of meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with spirit. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as an expression of spiritual being that one may commune with.

 

Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps: read, meditate, pray and contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the spiritual state of being that the writing is an expression of.

 

The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of scripture but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, give Jesus' statement in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you" an analytical approach would focus on the reason for the statement during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. But in Lectio Divina rather than "dissecting peace", the practitioner "enters peace" and shares in the peace of Christ. In Christian teachings, this form of meditative prayer leads to an increased knowledge of Christ.

 

Before the emergence of the Western monastic communities, a key contribution to the foundation of Lectio divina came from Origen in the 3rd century. Origen believed that The Word (i.e. Logos) was incarnate in Scripture and could therefore touch and teach readers and hearers. Origen taught that the reading of Scripture could help move beyond elementary thoughts and discover the higher wisdom hidden in the "Word of God".

 

In Origen's approach the major interpretive element of Scripture is Christ. In his view all Scriptural texts are secondary to Christ and are only revelations in as much as they refer to Christ as The Word of God. In this view, using Christ as the "interpretive key" unlocks the message in Scriptural texts.

 

The four movements of Lectio divina: read, meditate, pray, contemplate. Lectio Divina has been likened to "Feasting on the Word." The four parts are first taking a bite (Lectio), then chewing on it (Meditatio). Next is the opportunity to savor the essence of it (Oratio). Finally, the Word is digested and made a part of the body (Contemplatio) In Christian teachings, this form of meditative prayer leads to an increased knowledge of Christ.

 

The first step is the reading of Scripture. However, it is generally recommended to prepare for Lectio Divina, in order to achieve a calm and tranquil state of mind. The biblical reference for preparation via stillness is Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." An example would be sitting quietly and in silence and reciting a prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to guide the reading of the Scripture that is to follow.

 

The biblical basis for the preparation goes back to 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 which emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Word of God. As in the statement by John the Baptist in John 1:26 that "Christ stands in the midst of those who seek him", the preparatory step should open the mind to finding Christ in the passage being read.

 

Following the preparation the first movement of Lectio Divina is slow and gradual reading of the scriptural passage, perhaps several times. The attentive reading begins the process through which a higher level of understanding can be achieved. In the traditional Benedictine approach the passage is slowly read four times, each time with a slightly different focus.

 

Although Lectio Divina involves reading, it is less a practice of reading than one of listening to the inner message of the Scripture delivered through the Holy Spirit. Lectio Divina does not seek information or motivation, but communion with God. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the "Living Word".

 

The movement in Lectio Divina thus involves meditating upon and pondering on the scriptural passage. When the passage is read, it is generally advised not to try to assign a meaning to it at first, but to wait for the action of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the mind, as the passage is pondered upon. Again, the emphasis is not on analysis of the passage but to keep the mind open and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire a meaning for it.

 

An example passage may be the statement by Jesus during the Last Supper in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you". In Lectio Divina the practitioner "enters peace" and shares in the peace of Christ. The focus will thus be on achieving peace via a closer communion with God rather than a biblical analysis of the passage.