LECTIO DIVINA: PRAYING WITH THE BIBLE
Lectio divina is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” Benedictine monks, following the Rule of their founder, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547), dedicated certain hours of each day to reading, either the Scriptures or other spiritual books. Over the centuries, a five-step approach to praying the Bible was developed that came to be called lectio divina. These five steps are simple and can quickly be mastered by most who truly desire that the Bible become a part of their daily prayer, and who aspire to shape their lives according to the Word of God.
The first step in lectio divina is the reading of the Word of God. Choose a Scripture passage. The Mass readings for the day are a good place to start, or simply choose a book of the Bible and pray through it, a few verses each day. Read it first as you normally would, then slowly, once or twice more. A Bible commentary can be helpful to gain a better understanding of the chosen text. For adults, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary is an excellent choice for those interested in a scholarly approach, while The Navarre Bible offers a more spiritual commentary, including reflections by the saints and popes, and excerpts from Church documents. For high school students, The Catholic Study Bible provides extensive footnotes that bring clarity and depth to the text, while for middle school students, Break Through, the Bible for Young Catholics, is a paraphrase, written in contemporary language easy to understand. In our reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, it is essential that we do so with the mind of the Church, otherwise we risk running afoul of the truth of the gospel, allowing our own preferences or hidden desires to pull us toward an interpretation of the Scriptures designed to meet our needs, or to justify the choices we have already made, rather than reflecting on the will of God for our lives (2 Peter 3:16).
The second step is meditation. As you read through the text slowly and deliberately, allow your mind to focus on the phrase, or even just the word, that stands out. Write out the phrase or word in a journal, or underline it in your Bible. This phrase or word can be carried with you throughout the day as you work to apply the Scriptures to your daily life.
The third step is prayer: praise, thanksgiving, intercession and petition. Praise is the prayer of recognizing the Lord for Who He is: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Helper, Guide, Protector, etc… Call out to God according to your experience of Him on that day, at that moment. Thank Him for your blessings, as well as for the challenges you face. Bring before Him the needs of others they have made known to you. Finally, lay before His throne your own concerns, trials, temptations, struggles, joys, victories and desires. Pray especially for the desire to know, love and serve Him each day, and to live in happiness with Him forever.
The fourth step is contemplation. Focus once again on the phrase or word that caught your attention during your reading and meditation. Consider how this Scripture represents God’s Word for you today. What is God saying to you? How does this Word apply to your life, concretely, in this moment? It may be a Word of comfort. It may be a rebuke or call to repentance. It may be the answer to that question you have had on your mind and heart for some time. Reflect on what action you can take in response to His Word for you. Do not limit yourself to small things, for God may be calling you to great love and holiness. This is where you allow God’s Word to transform you “by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Whatever it is, make a commitment to act on God’s Word spoken to you this day.
The fifth and final step is action. You have read the Scripture. You have meditated on it and identified that phrase or word that stands out for you. You have offered your praise and prayers to God. You have contemplated on what God is saying to you, and what action you will take in response. Now act.
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25
Only by acting on the Word of God given to us each day can we be transformed ever more into the image of Christ, so that our wills better reflect the will of God. If we do not allow the Word to have an impact on our lives, to actually affect the daily choices and decisions we make, then we are the deluded of whom James wrote. We are like those who call out, “Lord! Lord!” whom the Lord does not recognize (Matthew 7:21-23), because we only carry our identities as Christians around with us as if in a briefcase or handbag, pulling it out periodically whenever the census taker or clerk at the hospital asks whom they should contact in the event of an emergency.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:22 (emphasis added)
Like the seed that fell on the path, the rocky ground, or among the thorns, the Word of God will not take root in our lives unless we prepare for it fertile soil: a heart eager to hear and a will eager to act (Matthew 13:1-9, 36-43). God’s Word is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It will cut to the heart, if we let it. As God’s children, we are holy ones called to holiness, saints called to sanctity. God’s Word is exactly that instrument that He has given to establish His purpose in our lives, and so prepare us for the kingdom.
“For just as from the heavens/the rain and snow come down/And do not return there/till they have watered the earth,/making it fertile and fruitful,/Giving seed to him who sows/and bread to him who eats,/So shall my word be/that goes forth from my mouth;/It shall not return to me void,/but shall do my will,/achieving the end for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
By praying with the Bible, and by allowing God’s Word given to us each day to have a genuine impact on our lives, we will soon see the day when we will more perfectly reflect the image of God to those around us, and more perfectly witness to the gospel of Christ to a world in sore need of His grace.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.