Scripture Meditation — Lectio Divina
For People of Every Kind
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
The Christian practice of meditation as it has evolved over two millennia, reflects much of its heritage from Judaism, yet has also developed some of its own distinctive features. We call this mode of prayer, Scripture Meditation. We also refer to it as a form of Lectio Divina, a Latin title meaning, literally, Divine Reading. Our meditation also involves reading, but with a slightly expanded concept of reading to include listening, hearing the inner message contained within the words. The very first word in God’s proclamation of eternal truth delivered through Moses was “Listen” or “Hear” ― “Shema” (or Sh’ma).
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.”
That is the Great and eternal Truth which the whole of Sacred Scripture, and our Lord’s entire ministry were to open to our understanding.
Thus our whole attention, all our efforts, every faculty we possess ― all of these are placed at the service of understanding this paramount truth, and helping others to understand likewise. In beholding this unique disclosure by God, and the Commandment to therefore love God and neighbour with every fibre of our being, we fall silent, bathed in awesome splendour in the Presence of our Creator and Redeemer.
Purpose of this Article
This article outlines the approach we have developed # and are offering to our readers as either a starting point or a supplementary source of information for the practice of meditation and prayer. What follows is a parallel form of the ancient “Lectio Divina”, i.e. ‘divine’ or spiritual reading come listening which leads us into prayerful communion. The contents can be adapted as considered appropriate according to one’s needs and circumstances.
# This is a slight expansion of traditional Lectio Divina incorporating the ancient practice of extracting from the text all that can provide spiritual sustenance by literally feeding on the Word. This involves ‘unpacking’
and ‘chewing over’ a selected passage of Scripture. The process is a very Hebrew-Christian amalgam of
study, prayer and meditation. The format below is the outcome of engaging with small groups and
facilitating meditation over a 50 year period.
You will have noticed the line of the title in small print: “For People of Every Kind.” These are the words
of St. Paul of the Cross who insisted that anyone who wishes to do so, can participate in contemplative
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
Christians often wonder about specific Jewish customs such as:
● wearing a Prayer Shawl (Tallit) with a long fringe (strings)
on each corner;
● strapping leather boxes containing certain Scriptures to
the head and arm.
Frequently, the assumption is that the customs arise from ‘legalism’. It can therefore be a surprise to learn two very fundamental truths.
● The ‘strings’ — tzitzit, don’t just remind the wearer that
there are 613 commandments in the Torah (the Teaching,
sometimes referred to as the ‘Law’); they remind the
wearer, of God who ‘commanded‘ — of God who laid
down the Path to Life for His People. They also remind
the wearer that we can grow in the knowledge and love of
God by consciously setting out to to follow and observe
what He commanded.
● The leather containers and enclosed parchments attached
to the forehead or arm create both a physical as well as a
spiritual binding of the wearer to the One the Sacred
Scriptures are about. Thus did God provide for the union
of His People with Himself through the Word.
Thus to know and remember the Torah is to know and remember God. This is essential if one is to obey God, who commanded (Deuteronomy 6: 5):— “You shall love the LORD your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
In the tradition of our Jewish heritage we recall that the Command “to love the LORD your God with all your heart” has always been explained to mean that, as members of God’s Household, we are to be in regular prayerful communion with Him. The Command “to love with all your soul” means to live the Faith fully and, if need be, to die willingly for God. Even “to live the Faith fully” means to die to one’s own will and give priority always to God’s Will. The Command to “love God with all your strength“, means to harness every passion, energy and effort to wait upon the Lord, studying His Sacred Scriptures and making Him known throughout the world. This teaching is exemplified by the Psalmist and by the Prophet:
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke His name; make known
among the peoples his deeds!
Sing praise, play music; proclaim all his wondrous deeds!
Glory in his holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
(Psalm 105: 1 to 3)
I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations. (Isaiah 42: 6b.)
Christians came to understand Jesus Christ as the Word of God made flesh (John 1: 14). In Him they came to see all Scripture fulfilled. Thus all Scripture is seen as pointing to Him and His Teaching: the embodiment of all that is contained in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures. We even call Him: Christ, our Torah, i.e. the Way, the Truth and the Life.
St. Jerome also wrote:
“The kingdom of heaven is the heralding of the Gospel
and a knowledge of the Scriptures that leads to life.”
What follows is a Hebrew-Catholic approach to both knowing and heralding: like a two-sided coin, in fact like a ‘two-edged sword’. When we truly know Christ the Word (who is indeed our Torah) in this way we cannot keep such knowledge hidden away. The sheer joy and power of the Living Word urge us to share this with others around us. This is a fundamental truth of genuine evangelisation in which we can all participate.
This is the prayerful study of Sacred Scripture — which we call Lectio Divina. It is not the academic pursuit of knowledge about the text, (important as this is at appropriate times). It is to know the Scriptures, to know (in the Biblical sense) Jesus Messiah — Jesus Anointed One.
An Invitation To You
Before we commence our study of the ‘process’ of Lectio Divina, let’s be very clear that this is indeed a practice suitable for any person who can read or listen attentively (and in fact, if one wanted to pursue the idea, anyone who can behold an icon, stained-glass window or crucifix and so on).
One of the great teachers of prayer and meditation, St. Paul of the Cross, wrote in his original Rule, talking about the duties of the members of his religious order: ” …. Let them ….. endeavour to teach the people, in the easiest and simplest way possible, how to meditate themselves, pointing out to them the deceit of those who say that meditation is only for religious # or other ecclesiastics. Let them be assured that God will lead them in ways that are easy and devout, so that people of every kind may be able to meditate, ….. ” (St. Paul of the Cross, 1741)
# religious — The term religious is an abbreviation for a member of a religious order.
So, do join us in this wonderful spiritual pursuit.
THE SEVEN R’s OF LECTIO DIVINA
A brief overview of the structure, the unfolding process of our approach to
Scripture Meditation: Lectio Divina. It is a practical, straightforward and uncomplicated sequence.
1. Reverence 2. Recollect
Phase One — Weekly Workshop
3. Read 4. Reflect 5. Respond
Phase Two — Daily Meditation
6. Remember 7. Rest
We use these seven words above to summarise our approach to Scriptural Meditation, rather than the traditional terms. This is not a gimmick. We find them the best way in general conversation to convey what occurs in the process of meditation, and to avoid an element of confusion which some other terms can give rise to, particularly today when they are often incorrectly used.
Those who are familiar with Lectio Divina may be surprised at our use of two “phases”. We are confident that this will be helpful to many. It is common today to observe the meditation process divorced from its rightful association with the Word:— Christ the Word. We therefore lay very real emphasis on engaging with the Divine Word: with the body, mind and soul. In our era, many people have great difficulty setting aside an hour for Lectio. This must never be a reason to hinder anyone from engaging in some form of meditation. Therefore, despite objections some may make, we have made provision for this realistic and practical arrangement, especially for our young people, in these frantically busy times.
1. Reverencing God and all creation
Although this is not strictly a phase, so to speak, of meditation, it is an essential frame of mind. It corresponds to what might be more formally called the “remote preparation” for prayer. If we wish to enter into full communion with God we are advised to maintain an attitude of humble reverence towards God, and respect towards humanity and all creation. This includes respecting our own human needs in terms of body, mind, and soul, as well as the needs of others.
We offer here some thoughts taken from the work of the late Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand whom we consider one of the greatest Christian philosophers and spiritual writers of modern times.
Reverence can be called, “the mother of all virtues”.
Reverence is, in fact, of capital importance to all the
fundamental domains of man’s life. By reverence is
meant a holy awe of, and respectful esteem for, God.
There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness:
reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above
the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the
sacred. Reverence including awe, indeed — fear and
trembling, is the specific response to the sacred:
Did not the Jews tremble in deep awe when the priest
brought the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies?
Was Isaiah not struck with Godly fear when he saw the Lord
in the Temple and exclaimed, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips ….. yet my eyes have seen the King”?
Do not the words of St. Peter after the miraculous catch of fish,
“Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinner ,” testify that
when the reality of God breaks in upon us we are struck with
fear and reverence?
In any discussion of “reverence” it will be worth recalling that
our epoch is pervaded by a spirit of irreverence. It is seen in
a distorted notion of freedom that demands rights while
refusing obligations, that exalts self-indulgence, that counsels
“let yourself go”. The ancient Christian concept of dwelling in
the presence of God, which presupposes reverence, is
considered today to be unnatural, pompous, or servile.
Even some modern Christian worship has taken on this worldly
notion, and is considered more natural, relevant and self-fulfilling
when it reflects this distorted spirit. Even those practising
Lectio Divina often approach it with a corresponding shallowness
and casualness. We advise great care and reverence for
Lectio Divina as it has been handed down to us! In fact we
recommend attention be given to ensuring we honour all the
spiritual treasures which have been handed down to us by
former generations; fidelity to our ancestors and their works.
This secondary aspect of reverence will impact on our primary
reverence. The tradition of Lectio Divina therefore should be
held in great esteem and carried out with respect and integrity
due to this great Christian path towards the contemplation
of God and His supreme goodness.
2. Recollecting oneself in the presence of God
To recollect (literally, to gather again) is to recall, to remember, and especially to bring together what has become scattered. In the spiritual domain, if we are seeking communion with God through meditation, we are encouraged to remember that we are members of God’s Household who are thereby welcome to enter God’s Presence. We are members of the Family of God. Thus we need to bring the focus of our mind onto the presence of God and not just leave it rambling on about anything currently before it. We can all develop our own way of doing this and there is nothing prescribed. If we are anxious or unsettled, this may be a little harder. A short prayer can help. Sometimes suitable art works or music can help us. We will soon find what works for us if we are in earnest.
Often one of the most difficult tasks when wanting to commence meditation, is to be still and silent, and allow ourselves to relax. A few minutes spent in one or two focussing, or relaxation exercises may be helpful. See our paper on “Individual Preparation“.
Meditation by its very nature tends to relax us. However, sometimes we need to be very human and spend, to spend a short time (or as long as it takes) allowing ourselves to calm down and feel ready to concentrate on what we are doing: being present to God. This may take only ten seconds — but it may need much longer depending on circumstances. It is always worth the time.
Phase One: Weekly Workshop
3. Reading the Word
We take a short passage from the Torah (the Teaching in the first five books of the Bible, the Law), the Gospels, or any other Scripture and stay with this for a whole week. An excellent practice is to take the Gospel reading appointed for the following Sunday in the International Three Year Lectionary. Over a period of three years the four Gospels are covered with readings arranged to suit the liturgical seasons. The Old Testament reading and Psalm are always chosen to link with the theme of the Gospel passage. These provide an excellent sequence of material for our meditation. If you would like to print out the Sunday Gospel, the hyperlink below will provide you with the text. It will also offer a guided “walk through” the Gospel, verse by verse.
At group meetings we read the passage from the Word of God aloud, as well as in silence, and then spend a moment quietly pondering one or two items which have attracted our attention.
If done in private, it can be helpful to read silently, as well as by vocalising (either aloud or in a whisper). It is important that the Word be read slowly and carefully. In private we can stop and allow the impact of the reading to take hold of us. It is a common experience in this “process” to read the text faithfully, but find that nothing seems “to strike” us. It is as dry as dust, dead as a door-nail! It is as though we have walked into a mighty towering granite wall, with not a single opening of any kind! When this happens you know you are in for “a wrestle with the Lord”. So, go forward bravely, read and re-read the text and refuse to leave! Keep going forward — in a spiritual sense — with hope, faith, and a loving desire to be blessed by the Lord. And, yes, the mighty, impregnable granite cliff-face will eventually open, parting just a little at first, and allowing you to see inside. Wait upon the Lord, and He will deliver!
Rather than marking a Bible, a copy of the text (e.g. a computer printout) can be given to each member who should feel free to underline, highlight, or add personal notes. This text can be carried about easily during the week or placed somewhere handy at home, so that it can be referred to frequently. The act of carrying the Sacred text — even if just on a piece of paper, folded in a pocket — can have genuine spiritual value if you use it prayerfully.
4. Reflecting on the Word
In our time of ‘Reflection‘, we aim at focusing on the teaching of the Lord, His interaction with people, and His practice of solitude and prayer. In this way we learn to listen to the Word, the Word manifested in the words, the Word within the words: we learn to Listen to Christ the Word. This has a particular importance in that our Lord’s final Commandment was for His followers, in His own words, to go to all nations, making disciples, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all He had commanded. (Matthew 28: 19 and 20).
A leader facilitates group reflection on the passage, adapting the style to meet the needs of the group, and the content of the chosen passage. (A separate article is available entitled “Guidelines for Leaders“). This is not a “Bible study” as such. Comparisons are not normally made with similar Scripture passages. Nor are quotes from other parts of the Old or New Testaments encouraged, unless they support the main reading without complications. We remain focussed primarily on this passage alone. This is very important.
If another reference is especially important to what Our Lord was teaching (certainly if He was quoting it) then we may choose to include it at this time. We do this to ensure our reflection is fully bedded into the unfolding revelation of God’s message throughout the whole of the Bible.
Similarly there are occasions when it is appropriate to make reference to the Epistles and other parts of the New Testament. However, when we do so, this should always be to enhance our understanding of the main core of the passage we are dealing with, and not to present us with new material to digest.
All members are encouraged to help “unpack” the passage whether by comment or question. The facilitator offers background information or assistance from sources of scholarship where this is appropriate or essential to avoid missing some valuable insight. If one engages in meditation alone, it can be beneficial to consult commentaries. This is a ‘workshop’ phase when we sometimes wrestle with aspects of the passage. But remember, our focus is on the Lord rather than about the reading. It is about knowing the Lord in a personal way, rather than acquiring knowledge about the Lord.
All of this is our Hebrew-Catholic way of engaging with the Word, indeed of obeying God Who commanded:
“Hear, O Israel!” (Deut. 6: 4) “Be hearing ….. .”
“Listen to Him!” (Luke 9: 35) “Be listening ….. .”
In observing, i.e. following God’s Command, given in both the Old and New Testament by God the Father, we arrive at a crucial understanding. The meaning of the Divine Word is not hiding; it is not hidden! It is present, and evident and manifest to one who is seeking. The meaning of what we are reflecting on is always ahead of us — like the Shekinah — leading us on, as we listen, follow and become fully present to the Divine Word. Then in God’s time — not ours — it unfolds, draws us into and unites us with the Message — that to which God Commanded us “to listen”, and to “hear”. It provides the Path God has chosen for us to follow which leads to Eternal Life.
This truth is at the core of a Hebrew Catholic approach to reflecting on Sacred Scripture.
Thus, to “listen to Him” means to take on board precisely what He says, to understand it, and be committed to modelling our lives on His Teaching — His Torah: to following His Path.
Our web site offers material under the title Reflections for anyone to lead personal or group reflection. We make no pretentious claims about those notes but hope they help some to understand the main teaching of the passage. They are not commentaries as such, but reflections, modelling a way any person can gather their own notes, insights, quotations, art work, or anything which contributes towards ‘unpacking’ the chosen piece of Scripture.
5. Responding to the Word
After our facilitator brings the Reflection stage to a close we spend a few minutes in silence dealing with matters arising from the reflection which attracted our attention or concern.
This is a time of private prayer when we take on board the issues, images, words or thoughts that have impacted on us. It is a time of loving response to the indwelling of the Word within us.
We need to remember that this private prayer, responding to our reading and reflection, must be allowed to emerge naturally at any time. It can be interspersed throughout our reading and reflection. It is part of the process. Let’s read a comment from the great St. Ambrose of the 4th Century on this:
“And let us remember that prayer should accompany the
reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk
together; for we speak to Him when we pray; we hear from
Him when we read the divine saying (Divine Word).“
In due course we gradually let these matters settle as we become aware of the call to enter into silence and inner stillness.
The Climax of All Our Reflection
Whenever we “workshop” Sacred Scripture, we would be helped to remember that it is, essentially, a time of opening up the Scriptures and improving our understanding of the message within. It is always listening to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The focus is on the Speaker, rather than just on what has been spoken by Him or about Him.
At the heart of it all is the call to die to self and rise to live in and with God through Jesus Christ.
We therefore pray constantly with our Lord:
“Your will, Father, not mine.” (Matthew 22: 42)
Bringing the Workshop to a close
When in a group, we can bring this phase to a close by reciting or singing a psalm or a New Testament canticle (or a few verses), or some appropriate method, according to the situation.
For all sorts of reasons, there are times when we cannot go any further in the Lectio Divina process. This happens to be a place when the sequence can be paused and continued either later, or the next day without any disadvantage. It would be helpful to make a mental note of some special aspect of the Scripture reading attracting your inner attention. Then when you return to Lectio, you can briefly reconnect with your earlier reflection and move into Phase Two: the “Remembering” and “Resting” stages. This very same approach can be repeated daily. Experience soon suggests what works best. Remember, the Word of God liberates — it does not incarcerate!
So, to reiterate, if having spent time on Reading and Reflecting on and Responding to the Word, circumstances require you to take leave at this point, this does not need to be a problem, nor, actually to interrupt your gift of prayer. You may need to attend to family or some other requirement. All that is necessary is that you note some words, phrases or a thought which brought you close to the Lord. Then next day or whenever you can, just settle down, Remember one such item from your earlier reflection and resume the Seven R’s of Lectio Divina at no. 6, i.e., “Remembering the Word”. In this way you build your prayer and meditation routine into your daily life and circumstances as God permits.
Phase Two: Daily Meditation In the Word
6. Remembering the Word
This is the time when we engage in what is commonly referred to as “silent meditation”. Our practice is to carry out the “Weekly Workshop” (Stages 3 to 5) fully once during the week in one sitting. Thereafter, whenever we are able, we take up stages 6 and 7.
If there has been a break after the “Weekly Workshop”, it is helpful to spend a few minutes briefly Recollecting oneself first, and then recalling a little bit of the “workshop”.
● Reading the appointed Sunday Gospel;
● Reflecting a moment on one particular highlight of the reading;
● Responding in prayer to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
This is an excellent use of the first few moments of meditation prayer time. It provides the opportunity to connect with the earlier phase of Lectio and to bring to mind a thought arising out of your Reflection — a thought which touched you spiritually and brought you close to the Lord.
At this point we simply hold in memory some thought, image, word, phrase or action which arose from our ‘workshopping’ the chosen text or any other Scripture from previous reflections. We don’t just recall it, we keep it present to the mind for as long as we feel the Holy Spirit bids us. If it helps, we can repeat a phrase such as, “Listen to Him” (from the Transfiguration), or any item attracting our inner attention. If no such item emerges from this particular Scripture passage, then fall back on some previous favourite word, phrase or idea. We let it come into the memory, like listening to waves gently rolling in, as though echoing, one after the other. This is remembering to behold — not by straining to keep the mind focussed, but by allowing one’s whole self to be present to God, through His Word. It is, in fact, listening to Christ our Lord in the depths of our being.
If distractions are a major concern, it can help to repeat, orally or in silence, a phrase or thought. This is not the recitation of a mantra but decisive action taken to remain present to God through Christ, His Word. This helps keep us open to God’s nurturing and restoration. It is then we are enabled to respond to God from the depths of our heart and place ourselves totally in His loving care. Repetition as part of the rhythm of life is perfectly human and natural, and there is no reason why it should not feature in our meditation if it helps us.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Everything He spoke, or every Scripture He drew from, was part of God’s message to call humanity to share His life. When we remember His spoken word, we are strengthened in our union with Jesus Christ, the Word behind the words, the Word within the words. As the Holy Spirit leads, we let our holding of a thought slowly merge with an awareness of His Presence in our heart, or the centre of our being.
7. Resting in the Word
Resting With the One Through Whom All Things Were Created
Like the process of Creation, our meditation time culminates in Sabbath Rest — Sabbath Time, that is, with the Lord of the Sabbath.
During this time our ‘remembering’ brings us into closer Communion with Jesus Christ the Word. We have come as the Lord invited us to do. It is now that He gives us His Rest.
● “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened,
and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11: 26)
● “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your
hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14: 27)
● “Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me
will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we
will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
(John 14: 23)
As the Holy Spirit bids us to move trustingly into silence and stillness, we allow ourselves to become absorbed in God’s Presence. This is a time of profound rest in Christ the Word. We set no time length. Each person establishes their own pattern.
Despite the allurement of distractions, we try to ignore them and not let them entertain us. When we discover that we have been distracted, without fuss we simply return to remembering our chosen thought, phrase or whatever and resume restful calm as best we can.
Those who are accustomed to wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) may find it helpful to do what has been a custom for several thousand years: to pull the tallit up over the head and shoulders during the time of meditation. This has long been a custom to heighten the sense of God′s Presence, and to diminish the opportunities for distractions to work their charm!
A Word on Sabbath Time
This is, in a manner of speaking, our Sabbath Time which we share with our Creator Who renews in us the breath of life we need to sustain us. This spiritual refreshment will continue to support us in all aspects of life, not just these few moments in meditation.
Let us remember that God created the Sabbath by resting on it. God had finished His work, but not creation. He created Sabbath in the presence of the first human beings — who shared in that act with God. Sabbath is created everytime God rests with us at any appointed time. That is the highest privilege and dignity we have: to share with God in the creation of Sabbath, which celebrates our special relationship with our Creator.
The Christian heart is grateful that our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to “the image of God” in which we were created: thus restoring our membership of the Household of God as members of His Family. (2 Corinthians 3: 18)
Meditation time commemorates this restoration and sense of belonging, as well as empowering us to treat others likewise, and look upon them as family. Meditation is thus a wellspring of evangelisation.
Our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples that the blessing of Sabbath Peace — Shalom — was His to give. All the spiritual meaning and blessings of Sabbath now reside in Him: Lord of the Sabbath. (See our booklet, “Lord of the Sabbath“.)
When we take our spiritual rest in Sabbath time, we respond lovingly to the invitation (command, in fact) from the Divine Word of God:
“Come to me ….. ….. ….. and I will give you rest.”
When we rest in the Word we return to our honoured place in God’s Family and draw breath from Him as humanity has done from the beginning.
Transition Back to Daily Duties
To conclude our meditation time (personal or in a group) we can listen to some music or recite the Lord’s Prayer in a low voice. In a group the leader could read a blessing, or the group might recite a benediction. It is time to disperse slowly and resume our normal routines and activities.
In the practice of Lectio Divina, or as we call it Scripture Meditation, we should try to keep it simple and not complicate what should remain simple. We hope this presentation helps encourage you to persevere in the practice. If you find you lose interest at times, or are “getting nothing out of it”, or think “I’m worse off than before I started”, then remember you are in good company. These are common experiences and, fortunately, are passing stages for those who don’t give up. We wish you well.