How to Pray the Bible Like the Ancient Christians With 'Lectio Divina'

So what do you do with all these Bible verses you learn by heart? Unless your interest is purely academic, you probably want to get closer to God. Here’s an ancient, yet gentle, approach to praying through the Scriptures: lectio divina.

Lectio divina is one of those phrases you can toss around for decades without ever realizing that you don’t actually know what it means. For years, I only knew that lectio divina was how monks and nuns used to pray the Scriptures. They would “ruminate” on the same text, like a cow (i.e., a ruminant) chewing a cud. Somehow, this appetizing metaphor failed to inspire further research.

Plus, I’ve had some bad experiences with the “professional” approach to spiritual growth. Whenever someone starts outlining How to Pray Like a Master in Five Incredibly Difficult Steps, I get nervous. I think of the apostles asking Jesus how to pray, and getting a short, simple answer that consisted mainly of the Our Father.

But now I’m excited. I’ve found this article that explains lectio divina as an ancient, gentle way of letting the Bible lead you into God’s presence. If you want to learn the Scripture by heart, you owe it to yourself to read this.

It’s longer than the average blog, so if you’re intimidated, skip down to “Choose a text of the Scriptures” for the how-to. Read this first.

But if you have time, the earlier discussion is worth a read. Especially his discussion of how “contemplation” is a gift, not a goal:

In ancient times contemplation was not regarded as a goal to be achieved through some method of prayer, but was simply accepted with gratitude as God’s recurring gift….

How different this ancient understanding is from our modern approach! Instead of recognizing that we all gently oscillate back and forth between spiritual activity and receptivity, between practice and contemplation, we today tend to set contemplation before ourselves as a goal — something we imagine we can achieve through some spiritual technique. We must be willing to sacrifice our “goal-oriented” approach if we are to practice lectio divina, because lectio divina has no other goal than spending time with God through the medium of His word…. Lectio divina teaches us to savor and delight in all the different flavors of God’s presence…

After you read it, let me know what you think. Do you already find that these verses lead you easily to prayer? Or do you glimpse a refreshing possibility here?

“Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina” by Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.