Lectio Divina

By Abbot Father Michael Cuozzo+, OFE
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (Saint Jerome, 340-420)
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum 1962 – 1965) urged all Catholics to return to Scripture as a way of “supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)
“It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.” (Pope John Paul II Novo Millennio Ineunte, 39)
This brief article is a summary of the ancient practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina is Latin for Divine Reading. This style of prayer dates back to the early monastic tradition. Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton (1915 -1968) wrote, “It is understood that the personal prayer of the monk is embedded in a life of psalmody, liturgical celebration and the meditative reading of Scripture (lectio divina).”
How great it is to come into the depths of God’s Word. We are able to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:9) and his words are “more desirable than gold, than a hoard of purest gold, sweeter also than honey or drippings from the comb.” (Psalm 19:11) Love, peace, and happiness are ours when we learn to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.(Colossians 3:16)
“Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, spiritual reading, or “holy reading,” and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to engender communion with the Triune God and to increase in the knowledge of God’s Word. It is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God’s Word.” We are urged to listen with our hearts because it was the Word of God that we are hearing.
Trappist monk Father Thomas Keating (1923), founder of the centering prayer movement explain what lectio divina is not. “It is not traditional Bible study, not reading the Scriptures for understanding and edification, and not praying the Scriptures (though praying the Scriptures can be a form of lectio divina when a word or phrase is taken from the Scriptures to focus on for the purpose of going into “God’s presence.””) Father Keating exclaims that lectio divina is a beginning into the more intense practices of centering prayer and contemplative prayer.
Guigo II the Carthusian (1114 – c. 1193), the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, said about Lectio Divina, “Reading is the careful study of the Scriptures, concentrations of one’s powers on it.  Meditation is the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one’s own reason for knowledge of hidden truth.  Prayer is the heart’s devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good.  Contemplation is when the mind is in some sort lifted to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.” The monk continues, “Reading, as it were, put the food into the mouth; meditation chews it and breaks it up; prayer extracts its flavor; contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes.”  Saint John Chrysostom (347-407) is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, said about Scripture, “To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is the same with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”
A 7th-century Assyrian bishop and theologian best remembered for his written work, Isaac of Nineveh, wrote: “Do not approach then words of Scripture, full of mystery, without prayer… say to God: “Lord, make me perceive the strength that is to be found here.” (Voir J. Wensink, Mystic Treatise by Isaac of Nineveh (Amsterdam, 1923), par. 329, ch. XLV, p. 220) What we pursue in a text of Scripture is not an abstract, irrelevant meaning; it is a force able of transforming us, the reader.
Benedictine Friar Luke Dysinger, explains that this “VERY ANCIENT art, practiced at one time by all Christians, is the technique known as lectio divina – a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God.” “The method of Lectio Divina includes moments of reading (lectio), reflecting on (meditatio), responding to (oratio) and resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God with the aim of nourishing and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine.”
An Invitation to Centering Prayer with and Introduction to Lectio Divina, by Basil Pennington and Luke Dysinger (Liguori/Triumph, 2001) has included a brief synopsis of Lectio Divina. The author will present the teachings exactly as written.
LECTIO DIVINA is an ancient spiritual art that is being rediscovered in our day. It is a way of allowing the Scriptures to become again what God intended that they should be – a means of uniting us to Himself. In lectio divina we discover our own underlying spiritual rhythm. We experience God in a gentle oscillation back and forth between spiritual activity and receptivity, in the movement from practice into contemplation and back again into spiritual practice.
LECTIO DIVINA teaches us about the God who truly loves us. In lectio divina we dare to believe that our loving Father continues to extend His embrace to us today. And His embrace is real. In His word we experience ourselves as personally loved by God; as the recipients of a word which He gives uniquely to each of us whenever we turn to Him in the Scriptures.
FINALLY, lectio divina teaches us about ourselves. In lectio divina we discover that there is no place in our hearts, no interior corner or closet that cannot be opened and offered to God. God teaches us in lectio divina what it means to be members of His royal priesthood – a people called to consecrate all of our memories, our hopes and our dreams to Christ. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515- 1582), also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, invites us to contemplate the humanity of the Son with the eyes of the Father. “For, in giving us, as He did, His Son, which is His Word and He has no other – He spoke to us all together, once and for all, in this single Word, and He has no occasion to speak further.” “All troubles of the Church, all the evils in the world, flow from this source: that men [women] do not by clear and sound knowledge and serious consideration penetrates into the truths of Sacred Scripture.” (Attributed to Saint Theresa of Avila) In closing, Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.  Let the spirit, the Word of God, live abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts.