Lectio divina is a Latin phrase meaning "divine reading" or "sacred reading." It refers to an ancient way of reading the Bible that over the centuries has taken a number of different forms within the tradition of the Church. Lectio divina is one of those terms that is both attractive and vague. Everyone agrees that it is a good thing, but there is some discussion concerning precisely what the term means. Fortunately, there is no copyright on "lectio divina" and all kinds of people can fruitfully engage in something that they describe as lectio divina, and use a rich array of diverse methods, without worrying about getting it wrong or breaking any rules. I should, however, at the start, define what I mean by lectio divina. I trust that this is consistent with what the term means in Catholic tradition, as I have sought to understand it, though I would not presume to claim that my way of doing lectio divina in a public forum is in any way normative.
I think that fundamentally, lectio divina is a prayerful encounter with the word of God. By the "word of God" I do not mean simply the text of the Bible; I also mean Christ, our Lord. He is the Word of God. One of the most powerful ways that we encounter him is through the words of sacred scripture. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us in Jesus Christ our Lord; so too in a different way, the word becomes flesh and dwells amongst us in human language, in the divinely inspired texts of scripture. That is why when we read the Bible in lectio divina, when we read the written text of the word of God, we do not simply study it, master it, or try to understand it. In our prayerful reading of the Bible, we are actually encountering the Lord God: we pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us so that we may be attentive disciples of Jesus, and do the will of the heavenly Father.
Many people have encountered the Lord God through scripture. A famous spiritual writer, Anthony Bloom, had such an experience and describes it in his book Beginning to Pray (Paulist, 1970). He explains that when he was young, he was antagonistic to faith, but decided to read one of the gospels to see if his negative views were verified. He picked the shortest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, so as not to waste time unnecessarily in his final look at Christianity. He writes:
"When I was reading the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me" Bloom, an unwilling young man, encountered Christ though the words of the gospel. Similarly, the regular practice of lectio divina may lead willing disciples of Jesus to deepen their encounter with Christ. That is lectio divina. That is divine reading, sacred reading, where we enter into the presence of God through the reading of a biblical passage.
The spirit of lectio divina should shape our response to the Lord in the other occasions in which we read the sacred scriptures, whether it be in Bible study (exegesis), or in private reading of the Bible, or in reading the Bible in preparation for teaching or preaching, or in liturgical reading. Our most significant experience of the word of God is in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. When we come together as the people of God gathered around the table of the word and the table of the Eucharist, we encounter Christ in the most intense way possible during our earthly journey. But routine can blind us to his presence. The personal practice of lectio divina, especially when we use the daily lectionary texts, is a most excellent way of preparing for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and in particular for being truly attentive to the Liturgy of the Word.
Lectio divina may be experienced in a public setting when many people come together to hear a portion of the Bible read aloud, verse by verse, with periods of silence to ponder the sacred words. Or lectio divina may be experienced in a private setting, when an individual reads a passage of the Bible as an element of personal prayer.
For over ten years I have been leading public sessions of lectio divina. When I became Archbishop of Edmonton I decided to invite the faithful...