Part II of a IV Part Series
by Fr. Paul Gros
Before we even begin to pray, we must first place ourselves in a comfortable position and allow ourselves to become silent, quieting our hearts. Sometimes taking a few minutes to focus on our breathing while slowly reciting a small prayer phrase like “Come Holy Spirit” or “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening” or just simply saying the name of “Jesus” very slowly can help quiet our minds and hearts. Using icons, a crucifix, statues, or candles may also help make the environment conducive to praying Lectio Divina.
The first step is called lectio or reading. This is simply doing just that, reading the scripture passage in a slow and prayerful way, slowly and unrushed, pausing after each word, phrase, or sentence that is striking or stands out. This means that we must “savor” each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says to us, “I am speaking to you today.” Remember it’s not about getting through a scripture passage in a certain timeframe, but rather cultivating a relationship with God. We should not expect lightning bolts from heaven or mystical ecstasies. In Lectio Divina, God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek Him in silence. He does not often reach out and grab us, rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence. We may have to slowly read the Scripture passage 3 or 4 times before we are really drawn to a word, phrase, sentence, or image. Be aware that sometimes there may not be anything that speaks to us. Thus, the Lord may be calling us to another Scripture passage or just want us to rest in His presence.
The second step is called medatio or meditation. This step is taking the passage, word, sentence, or image that we have been drawn to and using our minds to ruminate on it. Memorize it and repeat it slowly, letting it interact with the inner world, memories, concerns, and ideas. Allow God’s word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to become His special word to us. I like to think of it as an active “jumping from one thought to another,” like a monkey swinging from branch to branch, in seeking understanding surrounding the passage, word, sentence, or image. St Ignatius of Loyola, who is one of the great spiritual masters of our faith, often spoke of using the imagination in meditation. This would mean picturing ourselves at the Scripture scene or narrative, interacting with the characters, having dialogue with Jesus and the Apostles, and seeing, touching, smelling, and even feeling what they would have sensed in that moment!
Do not be afraid of distractions. Distractions will happen! Acknowledge distractions and give them up to God and simply return to meditation.
The third step to Lectio Divina is oratio or prayer. This step is simply talking to the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, or one of the other saints about what we have been meditating on. In other words, it is expressing our needs to God and giving to Him what we have discovered within our hearts through our meditation. This step might be understood simply as either a dialogue with God, having a loving conversation with Him about what we are meditating on (even if it’s about something hard or challenging!), or as an act of consecration, offering ourselves to God from our meditation.
For example, if I have been meditating on one of the resurrection scenes in the Gospels, and specifically sensing the joy of the Apostles and Mary Magdalene as they discovered the empty tomb and the risen Lord, I might be moved to give thanks and praise to God in that moment and express my deepest gratitude for how He has often brought new life from difficult situations in my own past. This step of Lectio Divina is essentially a response to God from our meditation.
Finally, the last step is called contemplatio or contemplation. Contemplation is essentially resting in God’s embrace. It’s being in God’s loving presence by looking upon Him with heartfelt love and allowing Him to look at us. It means that no words are exchanged in this prayer or any kind of active mediation, but rather it is simply a “gaze of love between two lovers.” St Jean Vianney once asked a man who was spending hours in the chapel day after day what he was doing. The man simply said to the great saint, “I look at Him and He looks at me.” Contemplation may be understood as a passive “letting go and letting God.” When our minds and hearts are quieted by the Holy Spirit, we are simply allowed to “rest in Him.”
It is important to note that during our prayer, we may return several times to each step of Lectio Divina. This is ok! It may be to avoid distraction, reorient our minds and hearts on the word or phrase that God has given, or even to seek a new word or phrase to ponder through the course of our prayer time. It may be at times that only a single word or phrase will fill our whole prayer period, which could be between 10 minutes to 1 hour.
In the end, remember it is not necessary to anxiously assess the quality of our prayer as if we were performing for God; Lectio Divina has no goal other than cultivating our relationship with God through His Living Word and that will hardly ever be perfect according to our standards. Prayer is not necessarily about seeking a good feeling (though good feelings may be a part of prayer), but rather it’s about growing in love with the One who continues to love us! Again, Lectio Divina is simply one way Jesus, through His Church, has answered the request of His disciples, “Lord, teach us how to pray!” (Mt 6:9).