Praying the Bible – The Reading of Lectio Divina

Daniel's Bistro Burger.jpg

Praying the Bible
Introlectio divinareading – meditating – praying – contemplating

One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in an upscale restaurant, Daniel’s Bistro, in New York City. My entrée was called the DB Burger, the signature dish of the menu. The description read, “Sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffles served on a Parmesan bun with pommes soufflées.” That’s quite a hamburger, and it cost $29!

The most incredible taste of that night wasn’t burger, however. Compliments of the house (because our table wasn’t ready when we arrived), my brothers and I were given an appetizer of tuna tartare: raw, ground tuna. I realize that sounds gross to most people, and I was a little hesitant to try it. Each of us was given a small spoon with a little tuna on it. That was it. Merely a taste, but what a taste! The flavor exploded in my mouth. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste it now.

That’s what lectio divina’s first step, reading, is like. It’s that slow, that savory, and that explosive.


There’s no secret formula to the first step of lectio divina, but it’s a bit like savoring that one bite of food. Just read the passage slowly and repeatedly. Let it sink in. Read it out loud, and read it silently. Become familiar with the rhythms of the text, its ebbs and flows. Read it over and over again.

Your mind may wander to the matters of the day. Just return to your reading. Don’t beat yourself up for having wandering thoughts, it happens to everyone. Try not to be abrupt during your move back into reading. Be gentle and gradual. Let the words of the text be your response to any distractions, repelling the distraction before it sidetracks you completely.

You won’t find a rule anywhere about how many times you should read the passage. Maybe five times, maybe fifteen–it depends on how many times seems right to you. Focus only on the words, phrases, and sentences. Don’t try to figure out what they mean. Don’t try to imagine the context in which they were written. And when you’re experienced at lectio divina, be sure to not move into meditation prematurely.

Remember, this reading is meant to be neither informative nor entertaining. It’s meant to be transformational. And also remember that lectio divina is a four-part process. You’re not meant to get it all in the first stage. This step is meant to familiarize you with the text, to let it seep into your soul. So, read in as neutral a way as possible, not trying to “get it,” but trying simply to hear it.

Let your reading be restful and unhurried. God’s Word is a gift to you. It’s a blessing–so let it bless you. Experience it; don’t intellectualize it. Let the experience of reading God’s Word be just that for you–an experience of reading God’s Word.

If you want to read more, I invite you to check out Divine Intervention: Encountering God through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina.

  • Gary

    Great article and explained very well!
    One thing I would add is this: as you learn lectio divina, don’t think about the steps. The steps should flow from one to the other. This won’t happen at first, but should with time. Be patient – waiting is part of the transformation.

  • http://kneltdown.wordpress.com/ Matthew

    Hey Tony,
    Thanks for the post; I came across Lectio while meeting with a spiritual mentor during a stay at a monastery. I read a great book that I would highly recommend. By a Catholic author Michael Casey, “Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.” It is a great text and I have found it very helpful to setting up my time.
    How much time do you typically spend in Lectio at one sitting? Also, do you write a key phrase down from your reading to carry with you during the day–how do you maintain thoughts throughout the day from your morning Lectio?

  • http://www.thoughtsofagyrovague.com Carl Holmes

    I have been practicing Lectio Divina for awhile. I love it. It si so funny though that I read the word meditate and STILL had the old baptist in me jump out of his skin…
    I am shallow I know. It is all about our upbringing I guess.

  • http://www.charismanglican.com The Charismanglican

    Thanks for leading us through this Tony. It’s a new concept to me (though I’ve heard OF it) and I’m going to go along with you.

  • Ted Seeber

    If reading isn’t transformational, then how can it be either informative or entertaining?
    Perhaps that’s the reason why I can’t stand romance novels…..

  • http://strivetoenter.com/emergentchurch Ryan Schatz

    Focus only on the words, phrases, and sentences. Don’t try to figure out what they mean. Don’t try to imagine the context in which they were written.

    The idea that one can focus on the words, phrases and sentences (which are written to convey meaning), and yet ignore their conveyed meaning and context in which they are stated is precisely the kind of thing that Buddhism teaches. God used words and context to convey meaning so that we might understand and then, having understood, obey. What Tony is describing is something you could do with any text since the meaning is unimportant. Pick anything that has a “rhythym” to it and say it over and over again and you’ll achieve the same results.
    Am I misunderstanding something here??

  • Dave H.

    Hi Ryan Schatz,
    “Am I misunderstanding something here??”
    Yes, I think you might be missing 2 things:
    1. The other 3 steps of the lectio divina (Tony’s metaphor of a meal is apt — he’s explicit that this is tasting and savoring part. Swallowing and nutrition come later!)
    2. This is the inspired, living communication of God (again the food metaphor is a good one — all foods are not equal, even the ones that taste good at first.)
    This is new to me also. I hope you stick with it and give it a chance!
    Dave

  • Ted Seeber

    “The idea that one can focus on the words, phrases and sentences (which are written to convey meaning), and yet ignore their conveyed meaning and context in which they are stated is precisely the kind of thing that Buddhism teaches.”
    Yes. All encounters with the divine are useful to building a bigger picture of God.
    But in the end, we’re seeking the Kingdom of God, not the Democracy of God. An institution, not mere fellowship.

  • http://musingsonyouthministry.blogspot.com/ Geoff

    thanks for adding this…
    i have heard a lot of talk about lectio divina recently, i think it is kind of the next step after having candels and a guitar for churches trying to reach my generation without having to really do any real changes…
    anyway, the way i have always explained it felt like bull shit, but i really like the way you describe it.
    it clicked to me that this is a real thing that can help people grow, not just a way to try and be a hip church…
    thanks.

  • Dave

    I should probably read the whole article, but you lost me at “foie gras” considering it is one of the most inhumanely produced foods on the planet.
    I haven’t read your articles, but I have read your book The Sacred Way, and I have read quite a bit about Lectio Divina and have been attempting to practice it for about two years now. It has reinvigorated my spiritual life.

  • martha

    I need to know the scriptural basis for lectio divina.