Lectio Divina — Benedictine
A Traditional Explanation
The “New Camaldoli” Monastery at Big Sur, California, has graciously permitted us to reproduce here, their explanation of “Lectio Divina” (pronounced “Lect-see-oh Div-ee-na”, emphasis on the bold), taken from the the “Oblate Rule of the Camaldolese Benedictine Monks”. The brief outline draws from the spirituality reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures and complements this with the Church’s teaching on communion in Christ the Word. Fundamentally, the description of Lectio corresponds to our “Seven R’s of Lectio Divina” which presents slight modifications to encourage both small group and individual use in various circumstances.
Lectio Divina (divine or spiritual reading) is a principal practice of Benedictine spirituality. True to its biblical origins, the monastic life seeks above all a listening heart wherein God’s Word — God’s self-communication — is made manifest in Christ, in the scriptures, in the human heart and in the heart of the cosmos.
Lectio Divina is a method of approaching scripture in order to listen to the depths, seeking to encounter Christ, the Word, through the power of the holy Spirit, hidden in the words of the text.
Ultimately it can be said that the goal of Lectio is an ever expanding capacity to listen with the heart to the word of God in all of life’s situations, leading to a more constant awareness of God’s presence. It is listening as a communion not so much for a particular message but for the nearness of the living God. It is therefore a listening that leads to a new way of seeing. In this sense the faithful practice of Lectio undergirds our entire life of prayer, work, and communion with others.
The traditional method for Lectio Divina is fourfold: (using the Latin names)
The repeated reading of the text until certain words and phrases call for attention. Sometimes footnotes in a good study bible (for example, the Jerusalem Bible) as well as cross references help here. This stage has often been compared to taking in food, as the first “eating” of the word of scripture.
The further “chewing” or “ruminating” on key words and phrases. One stays as long as one is so attracted to a word or phrase. At this stage the heart of the text for the reader should begin to emerge.
These key words and phrases of the text eventually lead the person to prayer inspired by the text and a growing awareness of God’s presence in Christ by the Spirit. This is the deep tasting of the text.
Eventually the particular words of the text lead the reader beyond words to silent awareness of God’s presence — simply an abiding or communing with God. This is the savoring of the sweetness of the Lord.
Lectio is also enhanced when one does scripture study and learns to consult good commentaries to support his or her reading. In this way the subtle nuances of a text will be more available to the reader. One should try to do Lectio as often as possible but at least once a week in preparation for Sunday worship, using the readings for that Sunday.
We find this a very helpful “definition” of Lectio Divina. Our own approach, “The Seven R’s of Lectio Divina”, is very similar. Our first two R’s: ‘Reverence’ and ‘Recollection’ are, of course, preparatory. In steps 2 and 3 above, notice the mention of “key words and phrases” — to which we would add ‘thoughts’ which emerge from the text. Usually one of these attracts our interior attention. Thus we encourage you to carry on and go more deeply into meditation, then ‘Remember’ this word until you find you become drawn, as it says above, “beyond words to silent awareness of God’s presence”. Sometimes in a group (or even by oneself) you need to stop at the end of step 3. Not a problem! Next day just settle down and ‘Remember’ the word(s) or special thought and let that lead you into quiet, restful, contemplation described in step 4 above.