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May 21, 2007

Lectio Divina: A moment of reading and listening

The Clerestory • Spring 2007
Produced by St. Procopius Abbey, Lisle, IL

A moment of prayer
Contemplation a moment of contemplation
Meditatio a moment of meditation

Once we have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures which speaks to us in a personal way, we must stop reading, take it in and “ruminate” on it. The image of the ruminant animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the Word of God. Christians have always seen a scriptural invitation to lectio divina in the example of the Virgin Mary “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard of Christ (Luke 2:19). For us today these images are a reminder that we must take in the word — that is, memorize it — and while gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our memories, our desires.

This is the second step or stage in lectio divina — meditatio.

Through meditatio we allow God’s word to become His word for us, a word that touches us and affects us at our deepest levels.

The third step in lectio divina is oratio – prayer. Prayer is understood both as dialogue with God, that is, as loving conversation with the One who has invited us into His embrace; and as consecration, prayer as the priestly offering to God of parts of ourselves that we have not previously believed God wants. In this consecration-prayer we allow the word that we have taken in and on which we are pondering to touch and change our deepest selves. Just as the priest consecrates the elements of bread and wine at the Eucharist, and we join with the priest in thanksgiving for this salvific action, so God invites us in lectio divina to hold up our most difficult and pain-filled experiences to Him; to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase He has given us in our lectio and meditatio. In this oratio, this consecration-prayer, we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the word of God.

Now, we simply rest in the presence of the one who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition — contemplatio, contemplation. Once again we practice silence, letting go of our own words; this time simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God.

There are many types of readings that assist the monks of St. Procopius Abbey to rest in the quiet silent presence of God, some in the predawn hours, others after Lauds, and still others throughout the day.

For lectio divina, Abbot Hugh ponders the readings from the Office of Readings and the Prayer for Christians; Fr. Jude, the Office of Readings also; Fr. Thomas, the book of Psalms; Br. Guy, 1 Corinthians; Br. Augustine, the Gospel from the Mass of the day; Fr. Becket, the Confessions of St. Augustine and the Gospel of the day; and, the Prior, Fr. Anthony, from the Gospels interwoven with a work by St. Thomas Aquinas called Catena Aura.

Since the whole of Christian life is a living out of our reading of the sacred texts, the following small bibliography may help our readers “to pick up and read” — a famous phrase chanted by a child and heard by St. Augustine that led him to pick up the scriptures and later be converted to Christianity.

Books on Lectio Divina well worth reading:

Michael Casey, O.C.S.O., Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.

Thelma Hall, r.c., Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina.

Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina.

M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., Lectio Divina.