Reflecting on this matter, I asked the question: How should we read? Is there a way to read that fosters communion (encounter) with God? In response to these questions I mentioned that the ancient practice of Lectio Divina may help us encounter God. So, what in the world is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is literally divine reading or spiritual reading. It is a way of prayfully engaging with Scripture in order to hear God. David Benner writes,
Although it is often treated as a technique, lectio divina is not really a procedure or even a method—at least not a single method. It is more an approach and an expectation. It arises out of a desire to not simply hear the words of Scriptures but also encounter the Word behind the words. At other times and in other ways of engaging with Scriptures we may seek insights, eternal truths and precepts for living. But in lectio divina what we seek is not information or motivation but communion and union. We seek nothing less than God. We attend to the Word as a way of opening ourselves to God and listen for God’s living word to us.
Well, there's no real secret, but Lectio Divina begins with a particular view of the nature of Scripture. It views Scripture "not as a text to be studied or a set of truths to be grasped, but as a living Word--always alive and active, always fresh and new." This is just another way of saying Scripture is God-breathed, or better yet God-enlivened. This understanding of the nature of Scripture (or Scripture's ontology) will need to be fleshed out in the future, but for now it will serve as an incipient response to Wes' statement that the nature of Scripture would be a good place to begin, for as he stated, "What we find is always constrained by what we're looking for."
Lectio Divina at its core is prayer. Its prayer in, under, and through the word whereby we hear from the Word. It primarily consists of two elements: silence and the Word. These elements are experienced through four movements:
1) lectio/reading ("prayer as attending") . . . in it we attend to the word . . . reading it in silent anticipation of hearing it the Word and the Spirit speaking to our spirit.
2) meditatio/meditation ("prayer as pondering") . . . is thinking in the sense of pondering over what has been read with both mind and heart in a way that is not restricted to rational, analytic thoughts.
3) oratio/speaking ("prayer as responding") . . . is our response to God once our hearts have been touch and stirred by the pondering of what has been read.
4) contemplatio/contemplation ("prayer as being") . . . "is a prayer of presence. It is prayer as being—a gift of being in and with God that allows our subsequent and very important doing to flow from this quite still center. It is the movement from conversation to communion.
Benner safeguards Lectio Divina from the human compulsion to make things into strict and static structures by noting that one can engage in Lectio Divina through even one or a combination of two or more of the movements. In addition, he offers a helpful path to practice if one desires to walk through all four movements.
If I were guiding you through the process, I might say something like the following:
Prepare now to hear God’s Word to you. In this first reading, listen for the general sense of what is being communicated. Open your entire self to this process. Attend to the words you hear, but listen particularly for the word or phrase that stands out for you. Also notice any images that might form within you, or memories, sensations or experiences that might arise in your consciousness as you listen.
Sit in stillness after hearing the words and allow the Word of God to form within you as you open yourself in attentiveness and expectancy to what God has for you. After the first reading and a suitable period of silence, I might then precede the second reading with these words:
Listen now to the same passage read a second time. This time allow yourself to ponder what you are hearing in both your head and your heart. Notice the thoughts that arise in response to the Word, and notice the movements in your heart.
Following the same pattern, I might then precede the third reading by saying:
Listen now to the passage a third time. This time allow yourself to respond to what has touched your mind and heart. This response may be worded or unworded, but it is prayer if it is offered with faith and openness to God.
Finally, after another period of silence, I might then say:
Listen to a final reading and allow yourself to simply be with God in stillness. Rest in God and be with the God who has spoken to you through the Word.
I know this was a lengthy post, yet I hope it gave you a brief synopsis of Lectio Divina. I hope to have several more posts highlighting the different movements mentioned above with more thoughts from David Benner's Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer.