What is it?
- A holistic, experiential way of reading scripture that uses mind, emotion, imagination, the senses, and prayer.
- Letting scripture soak deeply into us as we interact with a particular passage or story (lectio divina is Latin for divine or sacred reading).
- Listening prayerfully for what God wants to say to us through scripture.
Why is it important?
- Scripture is a record of human experience with God. It is the faith story in which our spirituality is rooted.
- Praying the scriptures opens us to hearing the scripture as it applies to our life experience.
- When we pray the scriptures, the story comes alive and we encounter God and Christ through the recorded word.
- Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. —Hebrews 4:12 NRSV
Note for Leaders
Two options are provided for praying with scripture. The first is the traditional lectio divina format developed in the early Christian church and promoted by St. Benedict. The second is a model adapted from the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. You may wish to try both approaches. Lectio divina and other ways of praying and meditating with scripture are core spiritual practices for Christian disciples. Return to this page on a regular basis and use it to reflect on a variety of scriptural texts. Also see “Group Lectio Divina” in the following section.
- Invite the group to sit quietly and enter a time of prayerful reflection. Breathe calmly, relax your body, offer a pray for guidance as you interact with the selected scriptural text.
- Briefly describe the four ways in which the scripture will be read and reflected on.
- Read the scripture four different times, allowing time for meditation and prayer between each reading. Before each reading remind the group of instructions for praying with the scripture through lectio, meditatio, oratio, or contemplatio, as you proceed.
- Lectio—read the passage to get a sense of the story. Who are the characters, what is the setting? Imagine the scene, the sights, sounds, odors, emotions, and tensions involved in the story. Enter the scene and allow it to become real to you.
- Meditatio—read the scripture again but this time for meaning and understanding. Ask questions. Why was this story recorded? What are the surface and underlying meanings? What does this story tell me about God? If I were in the story, who would I be? Whom do I most relate to in the story?
- Oratio—read the passage again, and this time pay attention to your emotional responses. What feelings surface as I read this scripture? Do I feel joy, sorrow, fear, anger, or guilt? Share your feelings with God in prayer. Ask for help in listening deeply to these emotions and meanings.
- Contemplatio—enter a time of receptive prayer. Let go of the images from the scripture and all other thoughts, interpretations, and worries. Breathe deeply and calmly, entering a profound silent state of listening. Wait for whatever God may bring to you in the quietness. If any insights or impressions come, note them with gratitude and then return to receptive listening. If no particular awarenesses come, let your mind return to the scripture passage. When you feel your prayer/meditation has ended, offer a word of thanks to God, open your eyes, and return to the room around you.
Praying as St. Ignatius
- Sit quietly for a few minutes, relax and breathe deeply.
- Spend a brief time in prayer. Offer thanks, and ask for guidance as you open yourself to the scripture and to God’s presence.
- Choose a scriptural passage that speaks to your needs or turn to a passage you have previously selected. Stories from the life of Jesus work particularly well for this exercise.
- Read the scripture slowly and prayerfully, perhaps as if for the first time. Pay attention to details of the story that make it come alive. Note descriptions of people, setting, situation, and emotions. Pay attention to images or words that grab your attention.
- Close your eyes as the group leader reads the passage again. As you listen, use your imagination to recreate the story. With your senses, be aware of the time of day, the landscape or buildings, weather conditions, colors, odors, sounds, voices, moods, and emotions. Try to get a sense of the setting, even if you cannot clearly see actual images.
- After the second scripture reading, remain quiet with eyes closed as you continue meditating on what you have heard. Imagine that you enter the scene as one of the characters or an observer of the events. Who are you? Where are you standing or sitting? How do you feel as you become this person in the story? What are your reactions as the story continues to unfold?
- If the story includes an interaction of one of the characters with Jesus, are you that person? What happens as you encounter Jesus? If you are an other character in the story, how do you feel as you observe Jesus interacting with the other person? What does this interaction tell you about your relationship with Christ?
- Now leave the scene in your mind, but remain in prayer. What did you learn and how did you feel about your experience? Share your responses and questions with God. Be still in God’s presence and listen for additional insights.
- Close your meditation time with a brief prayer of thanks. Move around, open your eyes, and return to the present. You may want to write about your experience in your journal, or share it with a spiritual friend or support group.
M. Robert Mulholland Jr., Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, revised edition (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2000).
Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).
Corinne Ware, Discover Your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth (Bethesda: Alban Institute, 1995).