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Lectio Intima

Lovers Reading Brian T. Kershisnik ©2017 Used with Permission

Lovers Reading by Brian T. Kershisnik ©2017 Used with Permission

There is perhaps nothing that so fundamentally realigns your understanding of another person as to see and hear them engaged with the Holy ...

As you probably know, Lectio divina (sacred reading) has been practiced monastically for untold centuries and is a profoundly flexible way of connecting with a sacred text, being read by the text and then led into quiet compassionate communion. It is a practice of letting go, of surrendering attachment to what we think we know in order to discover life at deeper levels. Letting go is fundamental to this tradition, because lectio divina is concerned not with instilling doctrine or dogma from the text but with experiencing the I-Thou relationship of lover and beloved. You read the text aloud, and as you do you listen for a word or phrase within a text that strikes a chord—and then you ruminate on and respond to that word, allowing unconscious associations to rise to consciousness so that they can be integrated, healed, transformed.

What you probably didn’t know is that lectio divina can also be practiced by couples, and I have discovered through my research that it can open up whole new arenas of intimacy—hence the name, lectio intima. When two people experience the same text and discover completely different responses to it, it changes them in multiple ways:

1. They are both “right.” There is no “better” response to a text, because each partner is letting the heart respond in a deeply authentic and personal way. 

2. They are surprised by what they find inside as they reflect on the text, and they learn things about the other that have never come up in conversation before. 

3. Each has the transcendent experience not only of touching and being touched by universal Spirit, but also of witnessing the other in that moment. 

To get started, pick a short text. Sacred texts of all religious traditions are considered holy for a reason, so you could start there—or you could read a Mary Oliver poem. Set aside at least 20 minutes. You will likely soon want more time.

Stage 1. Reading (lectio) You and your partner will read the text through aloud, slowly, one at a time. Let your mind’s eye take a soft focus, allowing one word or phrase to shimmer or stand out. Simply notice it, without interpretation. Share the word and enjoy a silent pause.

Stage 2. Meditating (meditatio) One of you will slowly read the text through again. As you hear the words, listen through the filter of the word that stood out for you, paying attention to its resonance, to what the word evokes from your present situation or the echoes of your past. After a brief time of silence for both of you to meditate on the text, share briefly—really, not more than a sentence or two—what the text brought up for you. This is similar to doing dream work, in that you’re listening to the subtlest sounds, watching for patterns of meaning. In a real sense, this is like active dreaming, and can tap into the same ocean of unconscious associations.

Stage 3. Responding (oratio) Now, the other one of you will again read the text with the filter of the word that stood out, and then respond. Many would say that prayer of some sort is the right response. Fr. Thomas Keating wrote that everything can be prayer; prayer has no fixed form or content. “Thank you,” “This hurts,” and “Help” are all perfect. I love how Fr. Luke Dysinger OSB, the monk who taught me lectio almost 30 years ago, conceptualizes this: Just as a priest consecrates bread and wine in the Eucharist, here is where we are invited to hold up our most pain-filled and difficult experiences in consecration, reciting the word we’ve been given over our wounds and vulnerabilities. These self-revealing risks are met not with judgment but with acceptance and compassion. These acts of positive vulnerability foster ever-deeper intimacy.

Stage 4. Contemplating (contemplatio) Alternate again for a final slow reading aloud. Quietly resting in what you just experienced, you find yourself in the embrace of the Beloved, in the presence of your beloved. Many find that this experience can be more intimate than making love—and indeed, this spiritual practice can contribute powerfully to a daily experience of intimacy in a coupleship.

The practice is not always easy or comfortable because you are disclosing increasingly deep parts of your heart to each other. The complexity reveals to us, as well as to our trusted other, the scandalizing vulnerabilities of our gloriously fractured selves.


David Thornton, D. Min., is an integrative pastoral therapist in Nashville, Tennessee. For a schedule of his retreats and work-shops, write him at [email protected]


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