One of the great Christian contemplative traditions that many are currently exploring is a form of Scripture meditation called Lectio Divina. What is Lectio Divina and how does it relate to mindfulness?
Lectio Divina provides us with a gentle pathway gradually guiding us into more contemplative and mindful approaches to being with God.
The Latin words “Lectio Divina” literally mean “Divine reading” and this particular approach and practice is thought to have been developed and encouraged by St. Benedict in the 6th Century. Of course the roots of Scripture Meditation reach back much further into Biblical times. In Psalm 1 we read about the blessed man who “meditates day and night” on Scripture. This encouragement to meditate on Scripture frames the entire book of Psalms which have for many centuries been a source of inspiration to Christians for prayer, worship and meditation. Psalm 48:9 speaks of meditation on the loving-
Lectio Divina was developed into a particular system and approach to Scripture Meditation that invites us to focus on four or five key ways we can engage with the text. The reading of the same text is repeated but on each occasion a different focus is encouraged. Here are the different areas -
Reading – Lectio
Meditation – Meditatio
Prayer – Oratio
Contemplation – Contemplatio
Action – Operatio [often added as an additional fifth feature]
A more formal approach to Lectio Divina sees these four or five areas as somewhat distinct but not in a way that prevents ebb and flow from one to another. The way in which we engage with the text is aimed at developing personal relationship with God. We listen to the various readings of the Scripture, not primarily in a logical or analytical way. Instead we listen with the “ear of the heart” and ask the Holy Spirit to converse with us through the text. This does not mean that we have to negate or neglect a common sense approach to biblical interpretation.
In the first reading – Lectio – we listen to the reading of Scripture in order to step back and consider an overview of the entire passage and any initial impressions we may have. So we are not delving into the specific interpretations of particular words or phrases. Instead it’s the overall flavour and feel of the passage that we are seeking to engage with.
In the second reading – Meditatio – we are listening with the heart and asking the Holy Spirit if there is any particular word, phrase or theme that we should zoom in on and meditate on for a time. We listen to the second reading with this in mind. In the silence after the reading you are invited to chew over again and again whatever stands out for you, asking the Holy Spirit to give you insight and understanding.
In the third reading – Oratio – we turn our meditation into Prayer. This may involve personal heart to heart sharing with God of how your meditation relates to your life currently and your thoughts and feelings about the meditation at this time. Openness and honesty with God are encouraged. This is not so much a religious exercise. It’s about sharing your heart with God and drawing near to his heart for you.
In the fourth reading – Contemplatio – we seek to rest in the Presence of God, in the light of our time of prayer and meditation. This is the area of Lectio Divina that can be linked more obviously with mindfulness and awareness practice. Mindfulness practice, in its broadest sense, includes the use of a variety of anchors to which we return our attention and focus during meditation – breath meditation, body scan, sounds and thoughts, Centring Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, etc. These forms of meditation all have anchors to which we can return our attention to when our minds wander. Contemplatio is no different in this respect. We return our attention and focus to an awareness of the presence of God, in the light of our Lectio Divina meditation.
The fifth and final stage of Lectio Divina is Operatio. This does not have to involve a further reading of the passage of Scripture. Instead we can pause to ask the question – “Do I need to take any particular action in the light of this time spent with God and any word he has spoken to me?”
More information on Christian Mindfulness Lectio Divina Courses can be found here.
©Richard H H Johnston