Lectio divina, sometimes called Thomistic prayer after St. Thomas Aquinus, is prayer that is focused on a more intellectual, or at least more thought-filled, approach to prayer. If your Myers-Briggs type ends in NT (intuitive and thinking), this type of prayer might fit your temperament better than other types of prayers. Even if you aren’t an NT, lectio divina might be worth spending some time in. Prayer as a routine is good, but if our prayer life is in a rut, then changing things up can be healthy and good for our relationship with the Ground of All Being.
Lectio divina, or divine reading, is an ancient Christian practice that many of us in the West, especially if we’ve always been Protestant, may be unfamiliar with. But Thomas Keating, monk and mystic, called it “the most traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ”.
Thelma Hall in Too Deep For Words lists four steps to lectio divina.
1. Lectio Choose a selection of Scripture. The selection should be at least a couple of verses, but the longer your selection the more time you’re going to need to spend with it. You might want to choose passages you find comforting or passages you’ve struggled with in the past. I’ve known some who make their way through books of the Bible a chapter or so at a time in lectio divina. Infinite Love can speak through any of it, if you spend the time. Once you’ve chosen the passage, read it slowly. Listen to the words as if they are being spoken to you in the moment. Do not look for deeper meanings. Simply be attentive to the Word.
2. Meditatio Listen with the “ear of your heart”. Read the passage again, listening to the Still Small Voice to point out a particular word or phrase or moment within the passage. Do your best not to overthink the process, but let the word or phrase present itself. If you get to the end of the passage and one has not presented itself, then starting again and slowly reading the passage will give the Spirit another opportunity to speak into you.
3. Oratio The “prayer of the heart”. Here focus on the word or phrase that caught your attention. Spend time with it. Why does it speak to you? What emotions does it stir in you? Are there things in your life that this verse brings to mind? What truths do you intuit from the passage?
**4. Contemplatio ** As you spend time with your word or phrase, your mind will start to settle. Let it. Slowly you will enter the “silence too deep for words”. The word or phrase may sink into, and a deep calm and rest over takes you as you enter a still silence with the Divine. Reaching here might take practice and time, depending on one’s experience. That’s okay. Skill acquisition takes time, and relationships build slowly. The more attention you give this process, the easier reaching contemplatio becomes.
Lectio divina, as I’ve described above, has traditionally been used as with scripture. However, it does not need to be confined merely to scripture. As St. Augustine tells us, “God gave us two texts: Scripture and creation.” Another way to use lectio divina in your prayer life is to find some natural creature or object and study it through this same process. Study a flower or a rock, find a feature that speaks to you, and contemplate it until you find the “silence too deep for words”.
If we expand our understanding of St. Augustine’s quote even further, we realize that our own experience is an aspect of Creation worthy of contemplation. This means we can use lectio divina as a way to process, contemplate, and listen for the Holy Spirit in our day-to-day life. Spend some time reflecting on your day, listen for any moments that speak to you, reflect upon them, contemplate them, and let them go. These moments can be happy moments, moments where we misspoke, or moments where someone said something hurtful to us. The Divine is calling to us through all of the moments of our day, and prayerful reflection on those moments can bring “comfort to the afflicted or afflict the comfortable”, depending on what best we need.
Bart Hennigan has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently in year four of Sewanne's Education for Ministry and is pursuing certification as a spiritual director through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. When not reading or discussing philosophy and theology, Bart is a stay-at-home father of three, which has taught him much about patience and the importance of silence.