I wonder if you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘Lectio Divina’. It’s Latin – and it translates literally as ‘Divine Reading’. It’s a practice from ancient times, of (essentially) reading Scripture very slowly, carefully and prayerfully, to allow each word, phrase and theological concept the time to settle into one’s soul: time for the Spirit of God to commune with the Spirit of Man.
Today, we are confronted with a blizzard
of theological ideas, from the mouth of John the Baptiser. The context is that people have been quizzing
John about this new prophet who has appeared on the scene – this Jesus of
Nazareth fellow. Who is he? (the crowd
is wondering). Is he the Messiah that
In response, John speaks in phrases
and words which come at us like bullets from a gun. Frankly, without taking the time to read them
carefully, they can wash over us…like some of my more theological sermons! We need to take time to fully absorb the
importance of what John is saying.
Lectio Divina gives us a simple,
practical tool for doing just that. Divine
Reading has been a practice of the church since at least the time of St
Benedict (in the 6th Century).
It fell out of fashion in some quarters, but in the 20th and
21st Century it has been somewhat revived as a useful, spiritual tool. The Second Vatican Council recommended its
revival. Pope Benedict re-affirmed the
idea at the start of the 21st Century. And it’s a technique taught by Spiritual
Directors and Guides all over the world.
Put simply, Lectio Divina – Divine Reading
– is a four stage process:
Let’s just unpack those a bit:
First, choose a text to focus on.
For example the chosen text can be
from Eucharistic liturgy, daily prayers or affirmations, or from the Gospel;
there are no specific requirements regarding the texts used during this
practice: nor are there requirements on reading a certain amount each time you
practice the Lectio Divina. It could be
a long passage, or just a few words.
Next, embrace silence.
Focus on your breathing, or repeat
a prayer silently, as you relax and allow yourself to let go of noise and
distractions. Once you are silent and focused, you can start to intently read
the text you chose.
Read the text
Take your time, read very slowly, in order to take in each
individual word and its sound. While reading, be sure that you are also
listening, as you wander calmly through the words about and of God. When you
arrive to a word or phrase that you feel grabs your attention, stop, and repeat
it, memorizing it, absorbing it. If the
text contains a story, take time to imagine yourself as one of the characters
in the story. What would they have
felt? What might God have been saying to
If you find a phrase or a word that
you don’t understand, make a note of it, or underline it for later study. You could look it up, later, on the
internet. Or you could ask me, or
another priest, for an explanation of what is being said.
You may find your thoughts
wandering into memories, or current worries and distractions. This is part of the process. This is you
offering your thoughts, concerns, and mind to God and this, in turn, is God
speaking and listening to you.
This should lead you to the next
phase, of conversing with God;
You can “speak” with your thoughts,
ideas, your inner voice, or out loud. Or you could draw or paint your
thoughts. You should feel calm and
relaxed: this is you interacting with God, who is happy to visit with you. Then
you can remain in contemplative silence, in God’s company, and return to the
text when you feel it’s right.
Remember that the goal is not to
complete a certain amount of text or reading, but to connect with God by
reading his words.
Let’s try this technique with just half of one of the verses from today’s
Gospel: “He whom God has sent speaks the
words of God….” (John 3.34)
We’ve selected our text. Now, be still. Let silence encompass you.
Ready? Now read the text, slowly, thoughtfully, questioningly…
“He who God has sent…”
Who is that referring to? Well it’s
John speaking. And we know he was being
asked questions about Jesus. So this
must refer to Jesus – that’s the ‘He’.
But what happened to him…’He who God has sent…’ So Jesus was sent by God. His being among
us wasn’t an accident of fate or history.
His arrival among us was a deliberate act of a loving Father-God. But what’s next? What did he do?
“He….speaks the words of God”. So
Jesus speaks the words of God. Does that
mean that his words have special power, special authority? Are Jesus’ words different from the other words we read in the Bible? Perhaps the
other words we read are inspired by
God…like a mountain inspires a painter.
But not the actual words of
God. Those are Jesus’ words alone. So what does that mean? Does it mean that we should pay more
attention to Jesus’ words? Is that why
some Bibles print Jesus’ words in red ink?
Is that why the book of the Gospels is paraded before reading, rather
than just read from the Bible like other readings?
I could go on…but I hope you get
the idea. Out of just 10 words, a whole
parade of questions, insights, and contemplation can flow. And having done that task, Lectio Divina
invites us to converse with God….so
let us pray:
Father, thank you for sending Jesus to us. Thank you for choosing to send him, out of your love for us. Thank you for speaking to us, so clearly, so beautifully,
so powerfully through the words he spoke while he was among us. Thank you for his wisdom. Thank you for his stories, and his
insight. Thank for the Love he
conveyed. Help me, Father, to listen
more keenly to Jesus words, every day.
Help me to respond to them with joy, and with purpose. Amen.