Lectio Divina as a tool for… creating an Action Plan?!?

I nicked the following graphic from the Paulist Press website, where they are promoting their new Catholic Prayer Bible: Lectio Divina Edition. It’s coming out in a couple of months; and when I first heard about it, I was excited at the concept: a Bible designed to support the practice of lectio divina. Wow. I was looking forward not only to acquiring my own copy, but to selling it through the store where I work.

But then I saw this graphic, and my anticipation turned to dismay. Look at it carefully: it boldly pronounces to the world that the four step process of lectio consists of reading, reflection, prayer, and action.


I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked what Guigo II had to say, the classical model of lectio consisted of these four steps: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. Okay, so lectio is reading, meditatio can be interpreted as reflection, and oratio certainly is a key form of prayer.

But since when is contemplatio a code word for action?!?!?!? Have we as a culture become so frightened of contemplation that we have to re-invent the very spiritual practices that were designed to foster contemplation, so that they function as self-help programs instead?

Okay, I realize I’m reacting to an ad. Maybe this was designed by some overzealous undergraduate intern who doesn’t know any better. Maybe the actual Bible will retain the original understanding of lectio. One can hope.

But — if this ad is accurate and the commentary in this Bible really does re-invent lectio divina as some sort of spiritualized goal-setting exercise rather than as an invitation to contemplation, then I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. We shall see.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://wildfaith.blogspot.com Darrell Grizzle

    I think this is a plot (probably instigated by the Vatican, or perhaps the Masons) to get contemplatives to set some goals in their lives. :o)

  • Mairnéalach

    Although pragmatism is a danger, so is the reverse. “He who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the one who built his house upon the rock.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Far be it from me to advocate for quietism, which is the “reverse” danger I presume you’re referring to. But just because quietism is a snare to be avoided is no justification for re-defining lectio divina in terms of action. Contemplation is not better than the active life, no matter what the author of The Cloud of Unknowing might say. But it is different. And ours is a culture that privileges the active life above contemplation, to deleterious effect; and if its advertising is any indication, then this “Catholic Prayer Bible” falls squarely into that trap.

  • Mairnéalach

    Tell me more about this topic. What is the difference between meditatio and contemplatio?

  • Ken

    @Mairnéalach : meditatio is defined as kind of a deeper reflection on what you read, really taking it into your heart. contemplatio is resting in God beyond words & thoughts – really letting go.

  • http://www.westernmysteries.com Peregrin

    Hi – my understanding is that the traditional practice of Lectio will naturally result in actions and changes in lives (both personal and communal) but ONLY via the very practice and culmination of contemplatio.

    In essence, I think (if i get the ad correct) a problem lies in the lower, unredeemed will ‘making a decision’ to ‘impove’ our lives as opposed to deep contemplatio, whereby we are remade by God or in partnership with him.

    This is what disturbed me about the ad. It reduces lectio to another self-help strategy and could remove the transcendent nature of God from the practice. Really then it is no longer divine and becomes fit for a round of the talk shows and gift-box spirituality ready for the Christmas market :)

  • Jo

    The life of the contemplative is what I have been seeking my whole life.

    Formerly, I followed a Pharasaic mentality that inner devotion, study, and passion must manifest itself in some outward, physical, tangible fruit. Or what was the purpose? Sadly, this usually turned out to be my work not His and I could not do a very good job because someone was either complimenting me or deriding me and I would adjust accordingly.

    The Purpose was that it was a means to change me from within and only He was able to reach there. Thank God (literally) that He did.

    Is it just me or do the words in the 4th part just jump out and harshly slap you?

    ACT – What I should do????

    They just do not fit!