Lectio Divina

The phrase [lectio divina] means “divine reading.” Originally it referred to the contemplative study of the Bible; today is has been expanded to include any book that brings one closer to truth. The vital feature of this discipline in not what one studies but how one studies it. The approach is a slow, thoughtful, prayerful dialogue with the material, grounded in the faith that behind the words we read there is always a Word to encounter.

We have been schooled to study for information; in lectio we study for insight. We have learned how to “master” a field; in lectio we study so that truth might master us. In the academy we study with our minds, always analyzing and dissecting; in lectio we do not abandon the mind but we let it descend into the heart, where the “hidden wholeness” of things may be discovered again. Normally, we read and question the text; in lectio we allow the text to read and question us. At its best, lectio divina nurtures a contemplative intellect – a mind which does not do violence to self or others or the world, but seeks to live in harmony with it all. If this kind of reading intrigues you, there are traditional steps for doing it.

  • Have a regular daily time. It is through daily, routine practice that one accumulates the fruits of this way of learning. It helps to have a set place where you do this.
  • Prepare your heart and mind. Sit still for a few minutes to clear out the static of busy thoughts that crowd in, begging for attention. As in meeting for worship, gently acknowledge them and lay them aside for now.
  • Read the passage. Some people begin by reading it out loud. This enables it to enter the mind through both eyes and ears. Others read and reread it a number of times so that it becomes semi-memorized. Others go directly to the next step.
  • Read the passage very slowly, pausing after phrase, especially any phrase that grabs your attention. You might inwardly ask what God is saying to you through this passage. The intent of lectio is to be open, to listen to God as we encounter the text.
  • Sometimes the next step is deep thought. Sometimes you are moved into a wordless state of being. Sometimes the former leads into the later. Friends often use the words “meditate” and “contemplate” interchangeably. Traditional usage gave them separate definitions. The words we use are less important than understanding that they represent two distinct states of being in worship.One is deep thinking, living with the text – or an experience, vision, or dream – keeping it present in the mind, returning to it in a variety of circumstances. One puzzles over it, tears it apart, juxtaposes it with incongruous material, looks for new meanings. This helps us more fully understand our experience and incorporate it into our core where it aids our transformation. The other way of being in worship is to slip into wordlessness – similar to what the secular world used to call a “brown study” – a state of inner stillness in which we are in God’s presence.We can’t make this happen through our will power or use of techniques. We can, however, practice the disciplines that put us in the place where God’s grace can touch us and lift us into the Presence.

From Opening Doors to Quaker Worship by Marty Grundy (Cleveland Monthly Meeting), a publication of the Religious Education Committee of FGC. Introductory material from Parker Palmer, “Lectio Divina: Another Way to Learn,” Pendle Hill Bulletin No. 322 (Oct. 1981). Steps based on William H. Shannon, Seeking the Face of God (New York: The Crossword Publishing Company, 1988); and Brian C. Taylor, Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1989), 64-70

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