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Lectio divina

Lectio divina

Lectio divina: ‘What?’ ‘So what?’ & ‘Now what?’


Several of us belong to a lectio divina group that meets once a week at St Bernadette’s.  We received formation in the practice of lectio divina in 2011 and although our group has gradually grown since then, each of us has so benefitted from our practice of lectio divina that we would love to share this way of praying still further.  What follows is a brief outline of what lectio divina is and how – if you are interested – you too can experience this very special way of praying with scripture. 


  1. What?


The term ‘lectio divina’ simply refers to the time-honoured method – practised by monastics since their beginning – of prayerfully reading the scriptures.


Whilst understanding scripture – as theology, literature and history – is important, lectio divina is not so concerned with exegesis as it is with learning to listen in the context of prayer to what scripture has to say to us and to respond prayerfully to what we hear.  As Pope Paul VI wrote so eloquently,


‘prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying”.’[1]


To practice lectio divina, we need to set some time apart for this prayer and establish external and internal peace.  Then, asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin the first stage:  we read our passage of scripture.  At this stage, lectio, what concerns us is what the passage is saying of itself.  Without paying attention to scripture at this level, there is a danger that we simply manipulate the text to our own purposes, rather than letting God speak through his scripture.


The second stage of the process is meditatio: we listen to what the scripture passage is saying to each of us.  This stage is deeply personal.  This is not a search for something original or clever to say about the text, nor is it a quest for identifying the most objectively important message of the passage.  It requires a listening of the heart: which word or phrase ‘jumps out’?  There is no need at this stage to analyse the reasons for it (indeed there is a risk that if we do so, we may suppress a challenging or otherwise unexpected response to the scriptures), but simply acknowledge that it is there.  Having acknowledged its presence, we go further into our meditation and, through reading the passage again, we ask what that word or phrases means to us.


Having meditated attentively upon the Lord’s word, we move on to the third stage of lectio divina: oratio, or prayer.  What do we say to the Lord in response to his word?


The fourth stage of the lectio divina structure is contemplatio.  As we spend this time in wonder, we pray for the grace to see as God sees and for the wisdom to discern God’s will for us.  David Foster compares this stage of contemplation – or ‘wonder’ – with lingering after sharing a meal with a friend: ‘We sit and take time to enjoy the food shared, and especially to enjoy the company in which we have shared the food and drink.  It is a time for gratitude, humour and togetherness.  So it is good not to hurry out of the presence of God we have savoured in our time of prayer… this is a time just to let God be God, and to let God be God for me.  Our own self-offering to God will come naturally out of that.’[2] 


Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation are the four stages of lectio divina but of course, there is always actio,  for as St Paul says, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5:14).  The impact of our lectio divina in our lives – the caritas (or charity) it inspires – is the true completion of the process of lectio divina.



  1. So what?


One might wonder why we ‘bother’ to meet up to read the scriptures in this way when it is a process that one can readily make use of on ones own.  The answer to this will be evident to anyone who has taken part in the process.  Each week we share one passage of scripture.  Each week, we share what ‘jumps out’ at us (though please note that you may choose not to share: that is understood and respected).  Sometimes, two or even three of us would have been struck by the same word or phrase, but even so, each person’s response to those words or phrases was always markedly different (this is not surprising when you think about it, because we are all individuals and the scripture passage provides only one side of the conversation!).  Sometimes – perhaps when God seems ‘far away’, for example – listening to others responding personally to scripture can in itself be an inspiration. For me, listening to those insights from the other members of the group has demonstrated the great value of sharing the scriptures in a group.  Besides (as you’ll know perhaps from experience of exercising or dieting), you’re much more likely to be faithful to the practice lectio divina if you are practising within a group at a fixed time each week.



  1. Now what?


Our Lectio group meets each week at St Bernadette’s but it is getting a little large. We intend to make two smaller groups and we would like to invite you to join one of them.  I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and have received many unexpected graces through my participation in the group and would highly recommend it.  Don’t just take my word for it, though: Pope Benedict XVI has said of lectio divina,


‘if it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.’[3]


I warmly invite you to come and share in what we have had the good fortune of receiving.


[1] Dei verbum paragraph 25

[2] David Foster, Reading with God (2005), p. 112

[3] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation ‘Dei verbum’.  16th September 2005


For more information please contact one of the current members.

Bernard Price

Ann Kerrigan