Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lectio Divina

In the on-going exploration of non-literal ways of reading/experiencing the Bible--Lectio Divina,
Lectio Divina lit. translates as "Divine Reading." Maybe better as Sacred Reading or Sacred Meditation (on the Text).

Lectio was practiced by the Western Christian monasticism from the time of St. Benedict (400s) up through the Middle Ages, to its renaissance of sorts today. The practice was lost, among both Catholic laity and Protestants who (because of its clericalization/monasticization) says it as a cursed Catholic popery. Although I found out this week that early Reformed Calvinists practiced Lectio.

It is way to enter the Biblical text as a mean of union with God. It can be prayed either individually or communally. The texts most often used is the Psalms.

Lectio consists of four moments: lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio (reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation).

Lectio--the reading of the text. Read the text adn follow along until one is moved--until a word or phrase strikes one. "I look to the hills, from whence shall come my help--In the Lord who made heaven and earth." (Ps 121) A wonderful way to do this is to chant the text or read it aloud as was the practice for the ancients, who never read silently to themselves.

Meditation--also called Rumination (ruminatio). Rumination comes from the word for a cow chewing cud. The pray-er should chew on this text, until meditation begins. What does making heaven and earth mean? What it is to look to the Hills? The hills around one's house--if one lives with such geography.

Oratio. Out of the meditation, one's heart is moved. The words touch us at the emotional level at our core. These prayers can be petitionary, even ejaculatory--Save us Lord. Christ hear our prayer.

Contemplatio. After being touched at our core, feeling the Love of God reach into our most wounded and fearful places, we seek only to express gratitude and to rest in this Lover. Here we reside no longer in the text but the empty space between the text. Contemplation, in a Christian context is a grace. That is only God can lead us to rest in God completely, beyond space-time, beyond language, beyond self-consciousness. Our actions can aid/hurt that movement, but can never gain it, earn it.

In the patristic era (400-800) lectio divina was seen as one time of prayer with four movements. Like a circle, passing fludily from one to the other. In the scholastic Medieval Era (1100-1500), the four movements were viewed more as four separate steps, each following from the other. One was to pray for a period--say years--on meditation, never then reacing oratio, contemplatio.

In integral terminlogy this is the difference between states (patristic) and state-stages (scholastics). An integral spiritual Biblical meditation would encourage practice of the patristic pattern of four movements, seeing overall in the course of time periods of one's life a scholastic-like patterning typical of one or so of the categories. In general terms that would link up those state-stages with the traditional notions of purgation, illumination, and union (lectio/meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio respectively). Both states and state-stages influenced by the stage(s) of one's development--the stages providing most of the content of those states.

What is beautiful about this process is getting out of heady Biblical studies, morality arguments, and all the rest. It also can lead individuals beyond Bible thumping and trite-syrupy pietistic reflections. Anyone, whatever their confession, will be taken to depths by this practice. How they interpret/re-contact after the experience may or may not allow them greater openness, even (so-called horizontal) breadth and the rest. It may not, depending on how constrictive their church context, psychological reasons, and existence/non-existence of mentors and support system to grow.


At 12:47 PM, Blogger michael norton said...

I have deeply enjoyed and benefitted from the discipline of Lectio Divina. I have been offering a shortened version at the opening of some Church meetings at a small gathering in San Diego. It has been well received and I thought to create a blog as a way to encourage people to practice this reading/meditation daily.

The purpose of the blog is really only to suggest passages daily and provide a place for sharing their experiences in a spirit of edification. You're all welcome to join us, and I would really appreciate any suggestions you might make about the functionality of the blog I've created. I want it to be as intuitive as possible.

check it out at


At 6:22 PM, Blogger timbomb said...

Chris, I determined to finally sit down and try some Lectio practice based on your instructions... but I discovered that over several house moves, I've wound up only owning a KJV - all my other better translations have slowly been lost.

Do you have a translation you can recommend? Some balance between poetry and accurate translation?


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