I just got through the Spiritual Formation 101 course at the Baptist College of Florida. It was a good and useful course, which has, in combination with a few other factors, actually done wonders for my devotional life and prayer life. I was, however, disappointed that in all of our discussions on prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading the topic of lectio divina never came up. This traditional practice has lots of a long history in Christian devotion and, from my initial experiences with it, is quite beneficial. Yet for some reason in the world I’ve grown up in (evangelical Protestant/Baptist) I’ve never heard it mentioned.
So what is lectio divina? It is a Latin phrase meaning “sacred reading,” and it refers to a specific practice combining Scripture reading, prayer, and meditation. Its origins can be traced back as far as Origen (3rd century), but it its current form it goes back to medieval monasteries, where it was finally put into four steps. The goal of lectio divina is to commune with God personally while/by reading Scripture. My explanations will be mostly pointless without giving the details, so I’ll just jump into the four steps:
- Read — The first step of lectio divina is to read Scripture. Usually, you will not want a very long passage for this. Generally a verse or two will be plenty, though of course you are not limited and depending on how long you want to spend and how much focus you have you might read much more. A great longer text might be psalm, for example. I like to pick out a verse or two that particularly strikes me from whatever large reading I am doing at the time.
Anyway, once you’ve chosen your text you read it slowly and carefully, focusing on it as exclusively as you can. You will probably want to read it multiple times, traditionally four. Pay close attention to words and phrases that stick out to you, and try different emphases each time you read it.
- Meditate — The next step is to meditate on what you’ve read. This is not a time for technical analysis or study, but more personal reflection with Christ as the central concern. You want to remove anything but the text and how it relates to Jesus from your mind, and focus on that alone. What does God want this word to show you about His only begotten Word through His Spirit? Stop and reflect on all of this for a few moments, minutes, or I suppose even hours if you’re hardcore enough. Don’t stop the answer to that question, but instead if an answer comes to mind focus on the reality in Christ. Does this text reveal that Christ brings peace for weary sinners? Then rest in His peace during this time.
- Pray — Having reflected on the text and listened to God in Christ through the Spirit, you then respond to Him in prayer. Whatever you have gathered from your time of meditation, respond to God in an appropriate way. Did His glory impress itself on you? Then respond, “Glory to You, God!” Was your sin exposed to you? Repent and ask for forgiveness. Whatever you have heard in reading God’s word and meditating on it, pray to the Author about it.
- Contemplate — Finally, the last step in lectio divina is to stop and be silent. You’ve read, meditated, and prayed. By this point you should just rest and listen. Do not try to move on yet, but rather spend a few moments, as it were, resting in the arms of God. Anything God has said, let it sink in further. Whatever you have said back to Him, let it stand unadulterated and unqualified for a moment. Just be silent, and sit with Your Father.
If the appeal and potential benefits of this practice are not obvious to you, then I don’t really know what to tell you. This is, as I mentioned, a traditional part of Christian devotion, which is quite intimate and fruitful. If you want to try something new, which is nonetheless ancient, in your walk with God, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I pray someone will benefit from it.