How using the ancient practice can begin or revive a sense of prayer
DePorres Durham, OP
Lectio Divina is a way of praying with the bible. The word literally means, “Divine Reading”. God speaks to us, and we respond to God. So, Lectio Divina is not just reading, but rather, reading so we might encounter God, and so doing, responding to God. The roots of Lectio Divina go back to the 3rd century, to Origen. It is thought he passed this practice of prayer on to Saint Ambrose, who taught it to Saint Augustine. It was Saint Benedict who formalized it, and it is probably the Benedictines, and their approach to contemplative prayer that caused this practice to survive.
Almost all meditation, even the prayerful meditation of the Lectio Divina, begins by slowing ourselves down.
So just how does one go about Lectio Divina? While people discuss four parts of Lectio Divina, I would suggest there are five. I add the importance of preparation for the encounter. We cannot just rush into Lectio, but rather must prepare ourselves for it. Just as a person might stretch before doing exercise, so too we do “spiritual stretching” by getting ourselves ready.
1) Preparation. Increasingly there is recognition of the power of taking some time to meditate. Christians have been doing this for centuries. By taking some time to relax, reflect and focus, the rest of our life can be more peaceful.
Almost all meditation, even the prayerful meditation of the Lectio Divina, begins by slowing ourselves down. Our lives are quite busy. Too busy, in fact. You probably learned the secret to relaxing when you were little. When you got too anxious, it was likely that some parent or teacher told you to “take a deep breath.” We prepare ourselves by taking a number of deep breaths.
This preparation is known as focused breathing. Dr. Nick Lazaris suggests the following steps to engage in focused breathing.
6 Rules for Practicing Focused Breathing
1) Prior to practicing, make sure your spine is straight.
2) Inhale through your nose with a long, sustained breath
(not fast, shallow breathing)
3) As you inhale, imagine your lower stomach is filing with air (you are actually filling up your lower lungs)
4) Hold your breath for a count of 3
5) As you exhale slowly through your mouth, for a count of 6, picture tension and anxiety leaving your body.
6) Associate your focused breathing with words such as “Calm”….”Relax”. (Lazaris, 2018)
Do this a few times, releasing stress and anxiety, and filling with peace and calm. Know that this cannot be rushed, but rather, everyone needs time to let go of the stresses of the day and become focused. Since this is prayer, some find it helpful to focus on a word or two. Often, simply saying the name of Jesus quietly can be a big help.
2) Lectio (Read). The first step is simply to read the text, or if done in a group, to listen to the person reading it. Either way, the text should be read slowly. As you read or hear the text, you pay attention to words or phrases that strike you. This is an exercise of listening to your “gut.” This is not an academic study. This is more an exercise of the heart rather than a task of the head. Allow a few moments of silence before reading again.
3) Meditatio. (Meditate). As you read or listen to the text a second time, you are know seeking to pay attention to the experience. What do you feel as you hear this text again? What emotions are coming to the surface? Are there other situations or current events that cause you to feel the same way, or is there any connection to them? And reflect on these feelings and your experience.
4) Oratio. (Prayer). As you read or listen to the text a third time, take a moment to pray about it. Some find it helpful to journal about it. For others, it can simply be the case of seeking to make real the words needed to be spoken to God.
The prayer is about listening to God and responding to God.
5) Contemplatio. (Contemplate). Contemplation may at first seem to be no different than meditation. Often the two words are used interchangeably. But there is a real, if not subtle difference. Meditation is about discovering the experience and feelings, and reflecting upon them. Contemplation is about resting in the experience totally, resting in the presence of the Lord.
Lazaris, N. (2018). Focused Breathing Tips for Reducing Anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/focused_breathing_tips_for_reducing_anxiety.html retrievewd on January 6, 2018.
Manneh, E. (2017). Lectio Divina: A Beginner’s Guide. Retrieved from http://bustedhalo.com/ministry-resources/lectio-divina-beginners-guide January 6, 2018.