Advent is just a few days away. As you prepare to celebrate the advent of Christ, in both incarnation (birth of Jesus) and Parousia (second coming of Christ), how will you intentionally connect with the divine? You may light advent candles and reflect on the four virtues of Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love. If you want to go a step deeper, consider trying the ancient practice of lectio divina.
Lectio Divina, Latin for "sacred reading," is a centuries-old spiritual practice where the reader meditates on short scripture passages from the Bible (or other wisdom writing) with the intention to open their heart and imagination to what God wants to communicate to them in the present. In some ways, this practice feels audacious--that scripture written thousands of years ago for a specific audience can speak to people universally, personally, and across time. How does this happen? Origen, who first introduced reflective reading as a way of uncovering the greater wisdom in scripture, insisted that "The Living Word" or Jesus Christ was the key to interpretation.
A Practical Guide
Lectio divina involves reading scripture multiple (3-4) times. Lectio divina has four essential movements that can easily be remembered as 4 Rs: Read (lectio), Reflect (meditatio), Respond in prayer (oratio), and Rest in silence (contemplatio). The Prayerful Reflections devotional is centered around this practice; authors select a scripture from the daily lectionary and do the following:
Read. Silently and slowly read the selected verse.
Reflect. Read the verse a second time. Is there a specific verse or word that stands out to you? Then ask yourself, "What does this mean? What invitation is here?
Respond. Read the verse a third time. Then, talk to God about it. What do you need to say to God? What is God saying to you?
Rest. If needed, read the verse a final time, then simply rest in the love of God. Practice silence and stillness and breathe deeply. Just be.
The roots of lectio divina go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom Ambrose taught them to Augustine of Hippo. In the fifth century, St. Benedict of Nursia (c 480-547) introduced lectio divina as a monastic practice. In the twelfth century, the progression from Bible reading to meditation, to prayer, to loving regard for God was first formally described by Guigo II, a Carthusian monk. Hundreds of years later, the Catholic church still encourages lectio divina: in 1965, the Second Vatican Council emphasized the importance of lectio divina as a spiritual practice, and it was reiterated by Pope Benedict in 2005. Protestant churches are also engaging with this spiritual practice both communally and individually. (Read more in-depth history here.)
Where to start
If lectio divina is new to you, I recommend following along with Prayerful Reflections this Advent. From December 1- January 5, read the daily scripture and ask God what stands out to you. Then, read what stood out to the author that day. Perhaps you resonate with their reflection, or the Holy Spirit will lead you in a different response as you reread the scripture.
Practicing lectio divina with a group
If your small group or Sunday School class is looking for a different way to engage with the Bible, lectio divina is a good option. Choose a short scripture passage, usually just a paragraph, and have one or multiple volunteers read the verse slowly as the rest of the group listens. You can even use different translations for each reading. Give time between each reading for reflection. Encourage people to write down their thoughts and prayers during that time of silence. As you reconvene together, ask if anyone would like to share what the Holy Spirit has revealed to them.
Soul Shepherding suggests the following approach:
1st Reading: What is one word or phrase the Holy Spirit impresses on you?
2nd Reading: What do you feel? What specific situation in your life today relates?
3rd Reading: What is Christ's personal invitation to you from the scripture?
Finally, spend some time in prayer. The leader can say a prayer out loud but then allow time for silence and stillness for the group.
Scripture Passages for Lectio Divina
There are so many scripture passages and even other writings that are useful for lectio divina. Here is a list to get you started:
LUKE 10:38-42, MARY AND MARTHA
MARK 10:46 - 52, THE HEALING OF BLIND BARTIMAEUS
GENESIS 32:22-31, JACOB WRESTLES THE ANGEL
EXODUS 3:11-14, I AM WHO I AM
MATTHEW 5:14 - 16, YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
MATTHEW 5:19 - 21, TREASURES IN HEAVEN
LUKE 13:18 - 19 THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED
EZEKIEL 36:26, A HEART OF FLESH
JOHN 8:2 - 11, THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN
MATTHEW 8:13, BECOME LIKE CHILDREN
JEREMIAH 1:4-10, BEFORE I FORMED YOU IN THE WOMB
THEW 6:25-34, THE LILIES OF THE FIELD
JOHN 20:11-18, DO NOT HOLD ON TO ME
ACTS 2:1-13, PENTECOST
MATTHEW 14:13-21 LOAVES AND FISHES
LUKE 2:41-52, TWELVE-YEAR-OLD JESUS
MATTHEW 3:13-17, THE BAPTISM OF JESUS
EXODUS 3: 1-6, MOSES AT THE BURNING BUSH
JOHN 1:1-15, THE WORD BECAME FLESH
MARK 6:7-13, JESUS CALLS THE TWELVE
Are you interested in extra-biblical writings? Writings by your favorite poets, saints, and civic leaders can be valuable. Check out the author of Centering Prayer for Everyone, Lindsay Boyer's suggestions here.
About the author
Julia Styles is a spiritual director, leadership coach, and community pastor. She connects with Christian leaders and spiritual seekers who are looking for personal practices that lead to spiritual wholeness. She is the founder and editor of Prayerful Reflections, a collaborative devotional written in the rhythm of lectio divina.
Resources used for this article include: