Lectio Divina

About lectio divina

Bishop David Walker models the Guigo II method of Lectio Divina. This clip can be used as a guide for individuals or groups. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…
and the Word was made flesh”

The Word of God is Jesus. He is the human face of God. It is Jesus who gives meaning to the whole of God’s revelation and brings to a climax the continuing testimonies of God’s love for us. Any understanding of the expression “Word of God” must be interpreted in the light of Jesus, the Word. The expression “the Word” came to signify the message that Jesus preached, his whole approach to humankind (Lk 8:12), and also the fledgling Christian movement as it began to spread under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 12:24, 6:7)

The Church also acknowledges as the “Word of God” the inspired writings recognised by the early Christian community. These inspired writings are God’s gift to the Church, and in them, God’s overwhelming love shines through. They embody in human word what is embodied in the divine Word who became flesh, and through this inspired human word of the Scriptures, we encounter personally the divine Word himself.

Since the beginning of the Christian movement, its members have read the Scriptures as God’s Word speaking to them. They found in them who their God is, the loving providence of their God, their own identity as God’s people, and the responsibilities that go with God’s choice of them to share the divine love with others. As Mary reflected on the unfolding mystery of her divine Son, Christians have continued to reflect on that same mystery which comes to us in the Scriptures. (Luke 2:51).

The reflective reading of the Scriptures leads us to know, understand and appropriate the fundamental Christian mysteries. It helps us to appreciate what we need to do to respond to God’s approach in them and holds up to us a mirror of how we are responding and what we might need to do to improve and deepen our response. It humbles us and makes us realise that we need God to walk with us on this journey: we cannot walk it alone. It brings us to prayer, in which we implore the divine help. It leads, too, to the transformation of our life of response to God, and enables us, through our lives as disciples of Jesus, to share the divine love we have known with those around us.

This meditative, prayerful reading of the Scriptures has been referred to as lectio divina. It can take many forms, but it is necessary to keep in mind the essential aspects of it, lest we read into the Scriptures what we want to hear rather than hear from them what God wants to tell us. St Augustine’s words are relevant: the one who serves you best is not the one who listens for what he wants to hear, but the one who shapes his life according to what he hears. To help us focus on the essential, I will adopt in this book the practice as described by Guigo ll, the fifth abbot of the Carthusian order, in his book “The Ladder of Monks (A Letter on the Contemplative Life) and Twelve Meditations.”

Lectio divina then, is the meditative reading of a text of God’s Word, the Scriptures, alone or with others, which leads to prayer, the transformation of life, and, through that transformed life, the sharing with others of the mystery of God entrusted to us. This practice of prayer involves the whole person. Through our senses we read, we meditate using our reason and imagination, and we pray and transform our lives with our will. It is not just an interior practice but one that engages with the issues of our Christian life and prompts us to work with them. At different times, the emphasis may be on different aspects of the prayer. But it would be unwise to omit any of them altogether.

In the light of what has been said, we can look at the presuppositions that underpin this form of Scriptural prayer. Firstly it embraces the Scriptures as God’s Word speaking to us. It emphasises that this practice is a personal encounter with the eternal Word, who is Jesus. It seems, as the source and goal of this prayer, the life of Christian discipleship.

The image of the arch is sometimes used to speak of prayer. Prayer is designated as the keystone of the arch, the stone at the top which takes the strain, and stops the sides of the arch from falling in. However, the keystone will not stay up there by itself: it needs the sides of the arch. The sides of the arch are working with our life; to root out the vices and to practice the virtues. The practice of lectio is not a discrete or isolated event, totally sufficient in itself: it takes place within the living of Christian discipleship. It arises out of the conscious determined effort to live as disciples of Jesus and has as its goal to strengthen that determination and effort. Transformation of life is an essential element of praying the Scriptures.

How we read the Scriptures will depend on how we understand them. If we recognise them as coming from the God who loves us, we could liken reading them to the beloved reading the letters from her lover. It is the one who loves God deeply who is the most likely to appreciate the deepest dimension of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not just a book, but a library, with many authors. Anyone author may not have known the writings of any other. However, there is a unity here. This is the story of God’s love for us, and this is so because the unifying author of all of the Scriptures is the Spirit of God.

This means that in reading the Scriptures we do need to appreciate that there are two senses: that of the historical author and that of the Spirit. The historical-critical method helps us to appreciate the historical meaning, but we need another methodology to appreciate the “Spiritual” sense: the message that transcends the historical sense and gives the Scriptures their unique character. Unless we recognise this divine spiritual sense, the Scriptures can be seen as a book of the past, just a historical work, to be explained simply in human terms. Lectio divina is always a theological reading of the text of Scripture.

The Scriptures, through the Spirit, emerged from the early Christian community. It was the Church that brought together these disparate books into one canon to make the Scriptures. The life of the early Church was the matrix into which the Scriptures were born. The Scriptures need to be understood and interpreted within the life of the Church. The covenant that God offers in the Scriptures is not with the individual, but with the people. The Church is the community of believers, the community of those who respond to the love of God. It is those that have faith, and are living a loving response to God’s love, who can be most open to the divine message of the Scriptures. Just as the Church was the matrix in which the Scriptures were born, so it needs to be the matrix within which we interpret them. The Scriptures need to be read within the faith community.

Lectio divina arises out of a faith relationship with Jesus and reaches its fulfillment in the transformation of that faith relationship. The Scriptures are more open to those active disciples who love God and who are endeavoring to transform their lives in conformity with their faith. It is the heart filled with this loving faith that will be most open to the spiritual message of the Scriptures. Active effort to live a life of Christian virtue is an important preparation for reading the Scriptures.

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