Lectio Divina is an ancient Christian practice that can give you a fresh take on any text.
I work at Colorado College in Spiritual Life, and one of the ancient Christian practices I most enjoy doing with my students there is Lectio Divina, or divine reading. Lectio Divinais a form of meditation that has its roots in the early monastic communities. When my students and I do Lectio Divina together once a week, we use the Gospel reading for the day or the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. (Most of us find we get more out of church when we have meditated on the readings beforehand.) But any sacred text—or even a poem—could be read using this technique.
My students, many of whom are not religious, have found a weekly Lectio Divina practice followed by a shared meal joyful. They are so often reading with their heads, looking to make an argument, and enjoy reading stories “by heart.” Students from various non-Christian backgrounds have also joined our Lectio group, and their new perspectives open up the New Testament for us in thrilling ways.
The first thing we do is prepare for Lectio by coming into the present moment. Sitting on couches in a circle, we are silent. We feel our feet on the ground. We listen to the sounds of the room. We are still. Then we silently pray, asking the Holy Spirit (or a student’s own higher power) to open our hearts to the text, to help us receive whatever will be most helpful, most healing.
Then we simply read aloud slowly and with attention. (I like to do Lectio with a group, but you can also do it on your own, or with a podcast like the Pray as You Go app.) Volunteers take turns reading the Scripture passage we have chosen aloud three times. We read it slowly and deliberately. I like to close my eyes and hear how, with each person’s reading, the text is slightly transformed. As I’m listening, I also try to engage my imagination. I might even picture myself in the scene. What does it sound like? What does the sand beneath my feet feel like? How do I react when Jesus says that to me?
We listen with an open heart for any words or phrases that stand out. Is there something consoling in this passage? Something challenging? Meditate on it. Commit it to memory.
Since we do Lectio Divina in a group (or, lately, over Zoom) we then go around the circle and share what line or image stood out for us and why. Sharing our inner lives is another way of connecting heart to heart with one another. Remarkably, we all find different things to be resonant. So Lectio is also a lovely way of building deeper friendships. We discuss a bit—never debating, just discussing what came up for each of us. This isn’t Bible study, no commentaries, just what consoled or troubled our hearts.
Finally, we take a moment of silence in order to contemplate or integrate what we have received. If our prayer was dry, that’s fine too, and to be expected. Contemplation in the Christian tradition is a gift from God; you can’t make it happen by sheer force of will, but you can sit in silence with the holy, and sometimes contemplation, or being aware of the presence of God, happens when you do.
After a minute or two in silence, we end with a short prayer, often expressing gratitude for the time with God in one another, and for the time with God in the text. We offer thanks for any gifts or insights we’ve received and ask for the grace and the courage to live into them in the coming week. Someone doesn’t need to be a believer in order to try Lectio Divina. Instead of asking the Holy Spirit for help opening your heart to the text, for example, you could also ask your own deep sacred wisdom and thank that same deep sacred wisdom for what you have received from time with a sacred text.
Keep reading: “10 Lessons from 4th Century Desert Dwellers”