Lectio divina is a very useful and practical discipline for spiritual growth. Rooted in ancient monasticism, the practice is a fourfold cycle: Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation. In fact, the term itself means “sacred reading.”
Reading. Lectio divina begins with a “text,” whether that is the Bible, a spiritual classic, something in nature, or even another person. You must “take up and read.” But the reading is not done to acquire knowledge or information, to master the text. Reading is done slowly, focusing on words and connections. In lectio divina, we are seeking to let the text master us.
I read through the Bible, a practice known as lectio continua, during my devotional times. I used to read for information, and to get through a certain amount (say, four chapters every day), but now I read slowly, taking at most a chapter each day. As I read, I listen for how the Word of God is addressing me.
Meditation. Meditation is focused thought. In lectio divina, we are neither letting our mind run wild with thoughts nor letting it empty of all thoughts. Instead, we concentrate our focus on the words of the text, thinking about each one. Let each word resonate within you.
Think of the meditation phase as though it were tea steeping. You are the hot water, and the tea bag is the Bible. As the tea bag steeps (reading), flavor is diffused throughout the hot water. This is meditation. It is the slow, simmering period where we digest the text and gain insight.
Prayer. The prayer phase takes the fruit of our meditation and offers it back to God. Perhaps a text led us to joy because of the gifts of God, or maybe a passage exposed sin in our lives and the need for repentance. Prayer is when we offer these insights back to God.
Contemplation. Contemplation is the act of sitting in the presence of God with total attention and concentration on God. After a time of prayer, we just sit with God.
If you preach or teach, you should use lectio divina as part of your preparation. Sit with the text away from analysis and exegesis, and let God speak to you through his word. A sermon or class could follow this four-part cycle.
For a sermon, the preacher could read the passage, describe the paths he or she explored during meditation and the insights found, and offer a prayer to God based on the meditation. After, there could be a congregational period of silence for contemplation.
When I teach, I often use lectio divina as an outline. I read the passage from my Bible and ask two or three others to read the same passage, but from different translations. Then I help the class to “meditate”: I ask what words or images struck them from the reading, what they noticed or didn’t noticed, what feelings they had as they read, or what was most surprising in the text. We follow these threads, learning from each other, and then conclude with prayer.
Lectio divina is a very helpful discipline for spiritual growth. If the reader practices lectio divina often, she will begin to plumb the depths of her soul and her relationship with God. The single greatest facet of lectio divina is its ability to create a mindset that can actually listen to and for God.