Lectio divina - what’s it all about?

04/12/08 | Posted by ellen

Lectio divina (Latin for divine reading, holy reading, spiritual reading) is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with the bible. It is a traditional Christian practice of prayer and scriptural reading that encourages a communion with the Triune God as well as promotes a spiritual connection with scripture. Lectio divina is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God's Word

 praying with God’s word

The Bible Society describes how lectio divina:

Gently leads you to the point where, through the Scriptures, you gradually start hearing God’s still, small voice.

Lectio divina invites you to savor and mull over those words from God: quietly, slowly, intently.

Lectio divina starts off a two-way conversation, as you begin to respond to what God is saying.

Lectio divina helps you to build – little by little – that vital bridge between your encounters with God and everyday life with its joys, humdrum and challenges”


I have found that there is no point in rushing lectio divina – it seems the ideal length of time to spend is about an hour at one sitting and, to be honest, it’s like all these discipline things it gets easier with practice. The ancients used to do it everyday - which I guess is an ideal - but slotting it into a pattern of scripture reading has helped me to develop a way of engaging with God’s Word that is gentle and dynamic. I use it as one amongst many ways of reading the bible. But it is particularly effective when I am struggling to focus and be still.

Despite the fact that lectio divina can be a very private way of reading the bible I have also found it a great way to read a bible passage as a communal activity. There is something about the way that it slows the reading up, helps people to find space to read and reflect privately before sharing their thoughts and ideas with a group. Give it a go and see what happens – just follow the steps below and then add a final step of sharing and communal praying.

The following steps have been adapted from an on-line lectio project that has been developed by the Dream network in Liverpool. They have been successfully experimenting with Dream lectio for a few years. If you would like to join in this project then do have a go - at the moment we are working through Genesis. 


Get comfortable. Begin with a few moments of deep, regular breathing and a short prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to guide you.
There are four phases of the prayer, which do not necessarily progress in an ordered way. You can move between the phases of the prayer freely as the Spirit guides.

Lectio – reading/listening

Read the passage several times slowly. This reading is very different from the speed reading which we usually use for newspapers, books and even the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. Listen for the still, small voice of God that will speak to you personally – not loudly, but intimately.

Meditatio – meditation

Focus on one phrase or word that seems to stick out to you.
Repeat it gently to yourself, and allow it to become God’s word for you.

Oratio – prayer

Respond to the passage by opening your heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but more the beginning of a conversation with God.  God invites you to be real, to hold up your most difficult and pain-filled experiences to him, and to gently recite over them the healing word or phrase he has given you in the lectio and meditatio.

Contemplatio – contemplation

Listen to God. Open your mind and heart to the influence of God.
There are moments in all loving relationships when words are unnecessary, and it is the same in your relationship with God. Once again, practice silence – let go of your own words and simply enjoy the experience of being in the presence of God, the One who loves you.

For a comprehensive yet accessible guide and starter I can recommend Reading with God: Lectio Divina by David Foster. 

If you have any experiences of using lectio divina then do post them in the comments section. Also, if anyone is using lectio as part of their Advent bible reading then do let me know - I’d love to know what readings you are using and how this way of reflecting and reading is working out.

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Thanks Ellen

You could use the nativity story excerpts in the Nativity story film module to try this right now. Or download one of the four free gospels which are linked to on the right.

#1. By Bruce on December 04, 2008




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