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How to do Lectio Divina

by Charles Bello
"Prayer is not designed to change God but to change us." Thomas Keating

lectio divina (lek-see-o de-vee-na) is an ancient prayer form that, for the first thousand years of church history, was an integral part of the Christian experience. It is a devotional way of reading, meditating on and praying the Scriptures in a manner that enables the Word of God to penetrate deeply into our hearts. Lectio divina is built on the conviction that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and that the Holy Spirit continues to speak to us through the Scriptures. Through lectio divina, we can facilitate the word of God richly dwelling in us (Colossians 3:16).

Devotional reading of Scripture finds its roots in the Hebrew tradition. The early church adapted this practice and built on it. This practice began to be known as lectio divina, which is Latin for "divine reading." Saint Benedict, one of the early fathers of the monastic movement, placed prayer, work and lectio divina as the three primary elements that gave rhythm to the daily life of Benedictine monks. Because of their dedication to the Scriptures and the other holy books of early Christianity, Benedictine monasteries were responsible for safeguarding much of the great literature during the Dark Ages. The Benedictines are also responsible for keeping alive the practice of lectio divina for the last 1,500 years.

Lectio divina was further refined by Guigo II, a monk who lived in France during the twelve century. In his book, Scala Claustralium (The Ladder of Monastics), Guigo writes,

One day I was engaged in physical work with my hands and I began to think about the spiritual tasks we humans have. While I was thinking, four spiritual steps came to mind: reading (lectio), mediation (meditatio), prayer (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio). This is the ladder of monastics by which they are lifted up from the earth into heaven. There are only a few distinct steps, but the distance covered is beyond measure and belief since the lower part is fixed on the earth and its top passes through the clouds to lay bare the secrets of heaven.

At one time, lectio divina was seen as four interchangeable parts, but after Guigo, the four parts began to be seen as four progressive steps: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. For the purpose of training and making simple things even simpler, I have renamed the stages as Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest, and I have added a preparatory stage at the beginning, Ready, and an incarnational stage at the end, Return. I have also added journaling as part of the whole process. Journaling is central to integrating the Word of God into our lives.

What others say about lectio divina

Eugine Peterson: Lectio divina is a way of life that develops "according to the Scriptures." It is not just a skill that we exercise when we have a Bible open before us but a life congruent with the Word made flesh to which the Scriptures give witness.

Tony Jones: Three activities dominate the life of a Benedictine Monk: prayer, work, and lectio divina... lectio divina is about one thing: developing an intimate relationship with God by praying the scriptures he gave us.

Thomas Keating: Lectio divina is the most traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the text of scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and he were suggesting the topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on his word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust, and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing.


For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16

How to practice lectio divina

If you are looking for a passage to start with, I would encourage you to begin with passages that are already your favorites and see what else God might want to say. The Psalms are a natural for lectio divina, as well as John's letters, and the Sermon on the Mount. Ask God to show you where to start. I have added time limits only as a guide. You are free to adjust the time to fit your schedule and own personal rhythm.

    Make yourself READY
  • Find a place where you can be quiet and undisturbed.
  • Choose a brief passage of scripture.
  • Ask God to meet you during this time of prayer.
  • You may want to journal lectio divina. This helps you slow down and better process your thoughts, prayers and reflections.
    READ / LECTIO (5 min.)
  • Read the passage slowly, letting your awareness rest of each word.
  • Listen for the still small voice of God.
  • Be aware of any word or phrase that catches your attention.
  • Write down word or phrase that caught your attention
    REFLECT / MEDITATIO (10 min.)
  • Meditate and think on the word or phrase that caught your attention.
  • Use your mind to analyze the word or phrase.
  • Be aware of any emotion or memories the word may stir up.
  • Write your meditations down.
    RESPOND / ORATIO (10 min.)
  • Respond to the word.
  • Ask God why this word caught your attention. What is He trying to say to you?
  • Dialogue with God about what you are feeling or hearing. Write out your dialogue without editing it or worrying about spelling or grammar.
  • Take time to listen.
    REST / CONTEMPLATIO (5 min.)
  • Simply rest in God's presence. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of God is called "contemplation."
  • Short "breath prayer" are sometime helpful when you mind wants to wander.
  • Keep returning to the passage and your reflections throughout the day / week.
  • Keep returning with the intention of prayerfully integrating the word into your life.
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