Category Archives: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina not an intellectual exercise

In monastic theology, lectio divina is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a communing with the living God who reveals himself to us through his Word. It is the occasion of a visit from the Lord, a reading with God, in his company, with his help, a reading that involves two.

This spiritual exercise is accompanied by a relish which, surpassing a mere notional knowledge, leads to a true religious experience suited to each individual. This light which comes from the inspired text or – it is important to note – on the occasion of the lectio, is received by the soul as a personal message, which is meant for it and serves to build up its faith.

The monk of the Middle Ages was not primarily interested in the letter of the text, as is the exegete of today, but in the profit he could draw from it for his spiritual life. The purpose of the lectio was to stimulate devotion.

The Monastic Theology of Aelred of Rievaulx

Amedee Hallier, OCSO

Lectio Divina as the springtime of the Church

Here are Pope Benedict’s 5 reasons for Christians doing lectio divina, because as he sees it, lectio is the new springtime of the Church.

Lectio Divina is of course central to Benedictine spirituality –but not limited to those who are “professional religious people–  with several hours a day of prayerful reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts required of monks in the Rule.

And it is also one of the central themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.  Scattered through the document are the reasons why lectio is so crucial.  Here is my summation of the reasons he sets out for why we should do lectio divina.

1.  To please God by listening to him. Pope quotes Origen: “Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God.”

2.  To build the Church as a community.  “While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church…The reading of the word of God… enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God.”

3.  To nourish and sustain us ‘on our journey of penance and conversion’: through it, we grow in love and truth.

4.  In order to discern God’s will for us, and convert us: “Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

The Pope particularly recommends lectio divina to seminarians because: “It is in the light and strength of God’s word that one’s specific vocation can be discerned and appreciated, loved and followed, and one’s proper mission carried out…”  Lay people to should be trained, he urges, “to discern God’s will through a familiarity with his word, read and studied in the Church under the guidance of her legitimate pastors.”

He goes on: “Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect ” (12:2). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).”, and “….by nourishing the heart with thoughts of God, so that faith, as our response to the word, may become a new criterion for judging and evaluation persons and things, events and issues”….”

5.  For the spiritual benefit of others. First, to equip us to fulfill the duty of all Christians to evangelize, contributing to the Churches mission to convert the whole world to Christ. And secondly to aid the souls in purgatory through the Church’s offer of indulgences for Scripture reading and certain Scripturally based prayers (such as the Office), which teach us that “to whatever degree we are united in Christ, we are united to one another, and the supernatural life of each one can be useful for the others.”

Siena Forum for Faith and Culture hosting a Lectio Divina training day with the American Bible Society

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Lectio Divina: 9 qualities of doing

At yesterday’s terrific conference on Lectio Divina, the keynote presenter, Trappist Brother Simeon Levia, monk of Saint Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA, gave an incredible talk on doing the work of Lectio Divina at a conference on Lectio sponsored by Mario Paredes and his staff at the American Bible Society. Brother Simeon is an established Catholic thinker.

One central aspect of Brother Simeon’s talk was his development of 9 qualities of Lectio Divina. Please note, lectio divina is not the exclusive domain of professional religious, that is, the exclusive use of monks and nuns, even though a lot of artwork often limits itself to portraying monks doing lectio. My notes are an expansion of what he said about doing lectio divina:

monk doing lectio.jpg

1. It’s done leisurely, it is not a rushed process: give at least 30 minutes. There’s an open-endedness of doing lectio; it’s to be done in a slow manner, not achievement or goal oriented. You might want to read Josef Pieper’s seminal book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. By doing lectio in a leisurely manner one activates the deepest levels of the human heart opening the heart up to its potentiality. Brother Simeon said something crucial for me: doing lectio in a leisurely manner you return to Paradise where there’s an original delight in all things –God, His Presence, ourselves, the Other. Brother noted that in this category we are able to build “islands of leisure for all” in that we cultivate healthy relationships. Remembering that we are made for the other –be it for life in the Trinity and the other person– and not to cultivate healthy relationships we are prone to die. Pertinent, therefore, is to ask the question: How do I spend my free time and take delight in that time? With a style of life that prizes the use of time, how we use our time is a sacrifice. Time is a precious gift from God. If you are inclined to do things out of obligation: forget it. Moralisms don’t work here.
2. It’s ruminative, that is, you turn over and over in mind a word or an image like a cow chews her cud. One’s ruminating on words and images means that you stay close to the text until you deplete for the moment the energy of that word and/or image. Brother Simeon advocates our attention to the language (the grammar) of the text. Here words are important,not just ideas. If you possible you would compare different translations of the Scriptural passage, and if you really skilled, you’d consult with the Latin and Greek texts. There’s no reductive choice of words for this work.
3. Lectio is cordial. There’s a freedom of the heart to follow its own instincts. The point here is to allow the flourishing of the language of the heart to work over the language of the logic of reasoning. Brother Simeon used the image of a “logic of fire” where sparks ignite flames that illuminate a path. A cordial reading of Scripture doesn’t allow the historical critical method to run one’s prayer (the aims of HCM and Lectio Divina are not same); Lection is about something that is new, unique and at a deeper of awareness.
4. Lectio is contemplative, that is, lectio is “the listening heart.” “Contemplation” is a much misunderstood and abused word. It is needs to be liberated by some much clutter, let me tell you. When you think of contemplation you ought to think of being receptive to the transcendent. As tell the students in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd the language that God most often uses is silence to express Himself. How much more do need to remind ourselves that silence needs to be cultivated in order to know, love and serve God. Into greater silence we should walk into if we are going to cut sin and falsehood.
Think of what Saint Paul said: “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the Israelites could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory. Indeed, what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious” (2 Cor. 3: 6-8).
5. It’s disinterested: there’s no predetermined goal or skills to be learned or analysis to be made. At this point the there’s no goal that’s not produced in freedom; the fruitfulness of the word is not known in the apostolate but in prayer. The apostolate for so many is more important than adoring the Word. No apostolic work will be fruitful if not grounded and sustained in lectio and prayer.
6. Lectio is provocative. With the prayerful reading of Scripture we’re not looking for a soothing by-product. The provocative nature of lectio means that our reading ought to take us out of our comfort zone. Scripture should make us a little –perhaps a lot in some cases– uncomfortable. Scripture’s provocative nature makes us sacrifice our preconceptions and ideologies opening us up to new mentality, an new attitude by which we judge reality. As Brother said, “God seeks to call us out of hiding.” Think of God calling Adam from his hiding place where he demurs: I am naked.
7. Lectio is necessarily and crucially ecclesial. Our ability to encounter God through Lectio Divina is an act of gratitude. It is the Church who is the owner and guardian of Scripture. We receive the Scriptures from the sacred Liturgy in its proclaimed and written form and seen in the context of its historical, grace-filled (liturgical) and eschatological planes. The heart and mind of the Church is respected because the Bible is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we say that lectio is ecclesial we also mean that it is inherently Christological and Marian. How could one read and pray with the Scriptures without thinking about it being Christo-centric: what converges is the reality of knowing who Christ is and how the Father sees his Son. Lectio is Marian because the Word is conceived in her womb, and Mary pondered the word in her heart. It is through Mary that we learn how to be silent, adoring, and faithful to God coming to humanity. Mary is the first church that lives the word in all its fullness.
8. Lectio is trans-biblical. This is a unique word formed by Brother Simeon by which he indicates that we are to allow the texts breath freely. Since the sacred Scripture reveals the hidden face of God in a unique and definitive manner. Allowing the Scriptures to live on their own, divine revelation is manifested according to the heart of God. Moreover, the sense here is that the Bible interprets itself: every part completes other parts.
9. Finally, lectio is mystagogical. Here is where lectio merits the adjective “divina.” The subjective is transformed by the objectivity and freedom of Grace. It is here that lectio divina realizes itself in its missio, its fruitfulness. The work done at this point can be expressed in this way: we become a living exegesis of the Word. The disciple learns from the Spirit on how to put on the mind of Christ; the Incarnation is born anew today. Recall: the Liturgy reminds us that today the Paschal Mystery has happened, today we are saved; today we are brought into intimacy with the crucified and risen Savior. And where does this happen: in me.
How close am I close to Christ? How close is Christ to me? With mystagogy the disciple recognizes the Lord in Word, Sacrament and prayer. Knowledge, therefore, loves to be fruitful. Lectio that lives in this point knows in the deepest parts of the the soul a modest foretaste of heaven.

Lectio Divina conference sponsored by American Bible Society

American Bible Society logo.pngI am exceedingly happy to see the American Bible Society (ABS) responding so quickly to Pope Benedict’s encouragement to delve more deeply into sacred Scripture through the practice of Lectio Divina. The Pope spoke eloquently of Lectio Divina and its need for us to practice in his recent work on Scripture, Verbum Domini.

Mario Paredes who oversees the Roman Catholic section of the ABS has organized for today “a contemporary approach to the ancient method of Lectio Divina as a service both to and through the Catholic Church with a new Lectio Divina Bible and Manuel. ABS will inaugurate the new Lectio Divina program at an official kick-off” today at 11 a.m at the ABS headquarters.
Brother Simeon Leiva, OCSO, a monk of Saint Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA, will deliver a talk titled, “A Contemporary Approach to Lectio Divina.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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