PRAYING THE SCRIPTURES
The Ancient Christian Art of Lectio Divina
By Elizabeth Canham and Roger Owen
Choose a time of day when you are alert and relaxed and a place that is quiet and restful. Take a few minutes to breathe deeply, relax your body, become still. Pray for the guidance of the Spirit as you enter this time of prayer.
Scripture passages to consider (Or feel free to choose one of your own, but the passage should be short, no more than 10 verses and ideally just 3-5 verses): Mark 10:13-16; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-11; 1 John 4:7-11; 1 John 4:13-19; Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 2:25-32; Mark 9:2-8; Isaiah 43:1-3; Isaiah 55:1-9; Isaiah 40:28-31; Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 7:36-50; Mark 5:25-34
Read through the passage slowly, just seeking to understand, just knowing which way the words go and seeing what is going on in the story. Here, you’re tracking with the Scriptures, allowing yourself to concentrate on the words on the page, slowly reading the story and letting it get inside of you, gaining familiarity with the words.
Gently read the Scriptures, slowly savoring and repeating the parts of the text that speak to the depths of your heart. Listen to the Word “with the ear of your heart”, and be willing to linger on portions of the text that seem to speak to you in a special way.
Through repetition, gently allow the text to percolate into your memory. Be willing to set the printed text aside and to listen to the Word which is in your heart.
II. MEDITATION—Rumination, mediatio
Here, you are going back through the text again, doing another whole reading. Or, when you’re struck by a word or phrase that you need to meditate on, pay attention to that word or phrase that tugs you and savor it, like a dog chewing a bone. This is what meditatio invites you to do—like Mary “pondering these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19)—you are invited to notice what speaks to you and treasure it in your heart. This is the ruminating image of a cow chewing the cud, realizing he’s not quite finished, so he brings it up again, chews on it a bit more, so there’s a chewing that attempts to get every bit out of the passage or word or phrase you’ve chosen.
Lovingly and slowly repeat the text you have internalized. Allow this interior “mulling over” to help the text “yield its savor”. Allow the text to interact with your memories, your hopes, your concerns. Don’t be afraid of “distractions”; simply acknowledge them and let go of them, always returning to the portion of the Scriptures you have taken into your heart. Is there a particular word or phrase in the Scripture passage you have chosen that speaks to your heart?
Let the text summon you to place before God all of yourself. Make the Word you have taken into yourself be a real word of consecration—a Word of blessing and a means of offering to God your deepest hopes and concerns. Let the gentle repetition of the Word lead you into a dialogue with the God who originally inspired the text, and who has now used the Scriptures as a way of drawing you into the divine presence.
Let the text lead you, like the one leading in a dance, let it lead you right into prayer, into communication/conversation with God. What do you perceive God as saying to you in the Scripture? What do you want to say to God? Have you been consoled, challenged, or in some other way moved? Do you need to argue with God, share your doubts or fears with God? Do you identify with one of the characters in the story, needing to ask for healing, for understanding, or for forgiveness in the same way the character did? Talk to God about what you feel, either in words or in writing.
Contemplatio comes from the Latin, meaning “contemplation.” After all of this, you are invited simply to rest in God, not seeking a feeling or looking for an answer, not actively imagining or listening to God or talking to God but simply being. A child crawling up into a father’s lap doesn’t say, “Daddy, read with me, play with me.” There is none of that—the child just lays her head against the father’s chest and enjoys being together. This is what the Beloved Disciple did at the Last Supper, rested his head against the bosom of Jesus (John 13:23). In contemplation, you are allowed to lean yourself against the breast of God and listen to that heartbeat of God that is steady, true, and comforting, and rest.
As you feel called to do so, simply rest silently in the presence of God. Be willing to let go of
the text which has led you into God’s presence. Enjoy the sweetness of silent communion with the God Who stands behind the Scriptures.
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