Have you ever read something that led to such a deep and exciting insight that you had to stop, read it again, mull it over and sink into gratitude for having stumbled across just what you needed to read? If so, you know something about the essential spiritual practice of lectio divina—the Latin term for “sacred reading.”
The practice of reading a sacred text over and over, mining it for meaning and clarity, is probably as old as reading itself. We know from the history of Judaism that rabbis and students would comb the Torah meditatively to glean wisdom from the words. Benedict of Nursia (480-550) included such a practice in the monastic Rule he drew up for his monks. You can find books, essays and all kinds of advice about how to engage in lectio divina. Bottom line is: find a short passage of text (scripture, poem, article, song), read it over slowly several times pausing for silence between readings, and notice what word, phrase or image seems to capture your imagination. What—in this passage—has energy for you? Then, allow this word, phrase or image to connect with your life today. Ask yourself, “What is it that the Holy One may be wanting me to pay attention to as a result of encountering this word, phrase or image today?” Allow yourself to sink into a deep, wordless space of gratitude after you have spent time reflecting on the passage.
That’s all there is to it. Lectio divina is a wonderful way to encounter scripture. I especially like small snippets from the daily lectionary, found online and in the book Sacred Space, put out annually by the Irish Jesuits.Once you learn how to do lectio divina with the printed word, you can be creative and enjoy “sacred reading” of art, music, movies and events in daily life. For example, you might look over your last vacation in prayer and ask yourself, “which moment stands out for me as particularly energetic or holy?” Remember that moment, feel it again, savor the holiness and allow it to draw you deeper into the love you have for God.
In fact, that is why lectio divina is such an essential practice for spiritual directors. It’s what we do with directees when we meet and hear their stories. We look for those places that shimmer with energy. Places we might ask the directee to stop and consider for a moment. Places that indicate God’s presence.
Try praying with words and images sometime. Here’s a quick review you can print, cut out and keep in your journal for handy reference.
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