The Beginner’s Guide to Lectio Divina

Since its founding, Tampa has been steeped in all things Cuban.  Cuban music, Cuban cigars, Cuban food, and, of course, Cuban drinks.  The most beloved, perhaps, is that cool Cuban concoction, the mojito with its white rum, sugar cane, lime juice, club soda, and muddled mint.

As any local will tell you, muddling the mint is not the same as chopping or tearing the mint.  Muddling squeezes out the mint’s essential oils, along with its taste and scent, without ripping the leaves.  

On a hot summer day in Florida, nothing is more refreshing than a mojito.  It is tangy and sweet; fizzy and fresh; peaceful and joyful.  You don’t chug a mojito.  You sip it on a sunny porch with your sleepy pup and a pretty magazine.

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At least, this is how I prefer to enjoy my mojito, in the backyard, in one of the red adirondack chairs.  And, as I enjoy it, my mind always wanders over to Saint John Chrysostom, the 5th-century archbishop of present-day Turkey (#seminarynerd).  Here is what John said about mint: “To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers.”  Here’s the other part of the quote: “so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”

To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches. – Saint John Chrysostom

John, from all those centuries ago, so beautifully articulated the wonder of scripture: it has depth and layers.  It is rich and complex, like a piece of good chocolate or cheese.  We can listen to the same passage over and over again and hear something new every time.  Its meaning is inexhaustible.  Which makes sense, since its author is also limitless, eternal. In other words, the Holy Word of God is, just that, the Word of God.  And, any encounter with it has the capacity to be an encounter with the divine.  

John Chrysostom must have experienced the grace of God through scripture.  And, he, like so many our own spiritual mentors and church leaders, longed for everyone to better know and love God through His Word.

But, how do you muddle scripture?  How do you press it between your fingers?  

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To be fair, there are countless ways to experience the Word of God.  Intellectually. Spiritually.  Literally.  Allegorically.  There are countless ways to approach the Word of God.  As history.  As prophecy.  As literature.  Again, its complexity is part of its beauty.

While in seminary, I spent a lot of time looking at scripture from that intellectual angle. Digging into different translations and studying the historical context.  When I turned to scripture in my quiet time or at church, however, I struggled to flip the switch.  The intellectual angle should have been supporting – not impeding – my spiritual experience of the Word of God.  

Thus began my love affair with Lectio.  Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, dates back to the earliest monastic communities, but its popularity has grown in both Catholic and Protestant communities in recent years.  Despite the fancy name and the long history, Lectio Divina is just a four-step-process for praying with scripture.  It is simply a structured way to muddle the scriptures; to release and absorb its scent, its taste, its essential oils.  

Below is a quick step-by-step guide to Lectio, as adapted from Antoine Lawlor’s “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Art and Practice of Lectio Divina.”  I hope that the practice of offers you a lovely experience of the divine, as it has for me.  It’s a little like sitting on a porch, feeling the hot sun on your cheeks, listening to the steady panting of your pup, and sipping on a cool mojito, full of biting, tart rum, and soothing, sweet mint.  It’s like that. Only so much better.

Enjoy.


LECTIO DIVINA

  1. Lectio (Read the text)
    • Read the text aloud
      • Note the words and phrases that stand out to you
    • Read the text aloud again
      • Listen again for the words and phrases that resonate with you
  1. Meditatio (Meditate on the text)
    • Read and reflect on the text a third (and final) time
      • Note the memories, hopes, and concerns that this text brings up for you
      • Pay more attention to your emotional reactions, rather than your intellectual ideas or questions
  1. Contemplatio (Contemplate the text)
    • Sit in sacred silence
      • Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, do your best to quiet your own thoughts and listen for the divine
    • In contemplation, we have the opportunity to “know the Word wordlessly and without image”
  1. Oratio (Pray in response to the text)
    1. Respond to the divine (either silently, out loud, or in your journal)
      • Share with God what you experienced or learned in your reading of and reflection on the text
      • Offer to God the questions, concerns, or praises that are still lingering with you

Possible Passages:

  • Isaiah 6:1-8: The Call of Isaiah
  • Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd
  • Matthew 5:1-10: The Beatitudes
  • John 4:7-11: God is Love
  • Romans 5:1-11: The Heavenly Graces (Faith, Hope, and Love)

 

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