Chapter 2 – Practice
The tradition distinguishes between four steps of lectio divina. This was a later development that was an attempt to systematize the practices of monks so that it could be faithfully transmitted across generations. Generally speaking, the lectio divina practiced within the monastic tradition was more conceptual in its expressions. In providing examples of each stage, I will follow that tradition aware that others may take this method in a different direction by integrating aspects such as imaginative meditation.
The first step is lectio or reading. The idea is simple enough, you must begin by reading the text and discerning what is its most basic meaning, also called the literal sense. This should not be confused with literalism. Literalism often fails to take into consideration the historical context and genre in which the Scripture was written. In contrast, the Catholic tradition talks about the literal sense which is how the Holy Spirit worked through the human author’s intent. For the sake of meditation, if a particular passage is difficult or confusing, the believer has two options. They can simply move on to something that makes more sense, or they can do more research and try to discover what the Sacred Author intends.
Once a person has a decent grasp of the literal sense, then one can allow the Word to become the content of their meditation (meditatio). You might notice that there is an overlap with the previous four step method, and that is okay. It might seem a little confusing at first, but both lectio divina and the method of meditation previously discussed neatly complement and work well together. For the sake of this presentation, it suffices to say that meditation in this section simply refers to the active pondering of what one has read. For example, let us imagine that you are drawn to the phrase “daily bread.” You may be intuitively drawn to consider how you are attempting to satisfy your needs and that of your family. As you explore the associations that arise, you begin to feel a strong sense of worry and fear. Different emotions arise as you ponder what you need and what you don’t need. This should lead you into the next step.
The third step is called oratio or prayer. Similar to the previous method, the meditation naturally flows into a dialogue with Jesus Christ. We respond to the Word and allow the Spirit to speak within us. One step moves to the next and then back again. We should not feel constrained, but rather allow the Spirit to move us from meditation to prayer and back again. Continuing with our previous example. Let us now imagine that you relate to the Lord the content of your meditation. You discuss with Him your fears and anxieties, and you imagine what He might say to you. Your intuition then might lead you to the phrase “be not afraid” that we hear so often in the scripture. This word provides you with some comfort, and you respond with gratitude.
As we move back and forth between meditation and prayer, we come to a point where the mind simply desires to rest. Instead of trying to force our intellects into active meditation, we must gain a sensitivity to the art of letting our minds rest in the Word. The tradition calls this resting in the Word contemplation, and there are many resources that teach about contemplation. For the sake of this section, it is important to note that this resting is not an act of the will, but a gift from God that is to be received with gratitude. This step in the practice of lectio divina is simply meant to give space for this more spontaneous gift of the Spirit by allowing for “unscripted time.” In the end, contemplation teaches us that prayer is not doing. Prayer is a reality that goes beyond our subjective awareness, and in time we learn to let go of our constant need to do and to know. This letting go, which is a work of the Holy Spirit, allows us to enter into the wordless, imageless gaze of contemplation.