Lectio divina is devotional reading of Scripture, followed by meditative consideration of the personal impact of that Scripture, verbal response to the reading and meditation, and contemplative response through active or passive reception.
1. Find a comfortable place to read and pray. You may wish to designate a particular chair or cushion or organize the space with a candle, a picture, or a favorite mug. Over time, these physical modifications to the environment will cue your mind to begin quieting itself for prayer automatically.
2. Choose a passage. Perhaps you will follow the daily office, reading a designated portion from the Psalms, the Old Testament, an epistle, and a gospel each day. You may stick to a reading guide that takes you through the whole Bible in a year. Or you may use a Bible study guide. If the practice of reading the Bible is new for you, start with the story of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark or Luke.
3. Invite the Lord to be present as you read, to illuminate the text so that you understand it (Col 1:9). Read the passage several times, looking for literary clues to its meaning. This is time for Bible study. What genre is the writing (for example, is it narrative, instructive, apocalyptic, prophetic, poetic)? What is the larger context of the passage? Who are the characters, the readers, the author? What is the plot? What are the main ideas? How does the logical argument flow? What figures of speech do you find? What questions do you have? You may wish to clarify the passage by using the editor’s introduction, study notes, cross references, and concordance that are printed in your Bible, or you can open up Bible reference tools like dictionaries, lexicons, and commentaries to help you grasp the basic ideas. However, do not turn your reading into a critical interpretation project. This is time for devotional reading. Save the deep research for later.
4. Once you have the big picture, meditate on the passage, allowing the Word to read you (Ps 19:7). Ask the Lord to guide your thoughts as you consider what he might be saying through this Scripture to you in particular.
Reread the passage several times, listening for words or phrases that speak to you. Some people free-write in a journal at this stage, beginning with the words, phrases, or theological themes of the Scripture that stand out to them. Others doodle to help them concentrate, illustrating what comes to mind from the passage, recreating the words in special font or color, or embellishing the printed text. Or you may simply sit, quietly attending to the direction in your mind.
Stay with a phrase that speaks to you for a while. Wait. Your subconscious mind may grasp something that will take your conscious mind a few moments to “hear” and receive.
Savor the phrase. At this stage, avoid analyzing it. This is like tasting your favorite candy. You do not consider the chemical components and how they react with your taste receptors to sense that it tastes good. You simply enjoy the result.
Be aware of potential distractions running through your mind. Are these thoughts tugging you away from the phrase?
Is there another word or phrase? You may move on to it in a moment. For now, return to the first phrase.
Do you wonder whether you are deceiving yourself? How can you know if God is really communicating with you? Be at peace (Ps 16:11–12). God is not a trickster. He is stronger than your self-deceptive tendencies. You may trust him to reveal what you need to hear without leading you down false paths.
Is your mind multitasking while it waits? Jot your “to do” list on a separate piece of paper. You can attend to it in a few minutes.
Are the thoughts that are running through your mind intersecting with your phrase? Perhaps they are the substance of your meditation rather than a path away from it. God brings your subconscious and your conscious thoughts into the light of his word. You need not protect him from your negative or chaotic ideas. You do not need a finished package before you yield yourself to him.6
5. When your engagement with the text has settled, turn to the Lord in prayer. Perhaps your reading and meditation will lead you to praise God’s character or deeds. Maybe something has come to light that you wish to confess or for which you want to ask forgiveness. Perhaps you will thank him or petition his help in something or for someone. A phrase from the Scriptures you have been reading may provide the right words or you may speak your own. Now is the time to talk with God (1 Cor 14:15).
6. Contemplation involves waiting on the truths you have learned about God and about yourself, but it may include active waiting as well as passive. Perhaps a specific effort will be part of the response to your prayerful reading (Jas 1:23–25). You may need to speak to someone or change a habit. Maybe you will start that in-depth Scripture-analysis now. Or you may share with others the themes and thoughts that arose as you read, meditated, and prayed (Heb 10:24–25). On the other hand, waiting might mean centering in stillness, repeating and returning your mind to a word or phrase that captures the truth you received. Finally, you may simply rest, comforted and empowered through the spiritual exercise for the other activities of the day (Ps 119:52).
6Jesuit Communication Centre, Sacred Space, n.p. [cited 13 Jan 2006]. Online: www.sacredspace.ie.