During the past two summers, on the Guelph walking pilgrimage, I first heard the term Lectio Divina. I knew sufficient Latin to know its meaning, Divine Reading, and condescendingly rejoiced that Roman Catholics were finally reading their Bibles. What I didn’t realize was they’ve been reading their Bibles all along, even during and after the Reformation.
Why then, in the 21st century, the fancy Latin name? It’s a link to the past history of the church, theirs and ours, when Latin was the common language.
From early times the Bible has been seen as the Word of God, although not until the third century did the church have all the books of the Bible we know today. To say the Bible is the Word of God is to admit it is as much a sacrament of God’s real presence as the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine.
However, very few could read, and so had to have it read and explained to them in order to receive the grace ensuing from it.
In the Western church, the monasteries preserved Bible reading and transmitted it to everybody. It became part of the 6th century Benedictine rule.
In the 12th century Guigo, a Carthusian monk, devised the four steps of lectio, meditatio, oratio and comtemplatio (reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation), known as Guigo’s ladder. It fell out of use by the 16th century as the monasteries became more lax in their discipline, but the Protestant reformers, Luther and Calvin, revived it, as more Protestants were literate.
Although Roman Catholics continued to read the Bible, it wasn’t emphasized as the Word of God until the 1960s constitution Dei verbum of the Second Vatican Council. This recommended Lectio Divina to every Roman Catholic. Pope Benedict XVI further confirmed it, stating, “This practice will bring to the Church — I am convinced of it — a new spiritual springtime.”
What is Lectio Divina? If we don’t like the Latin, just call it Divine Reading.
Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation may be thought of as answering four questions:
What does the Word of God say? Perhaps, on reading the text, the whole or part, may jump out at us.
What does it say to me? We should try to personalize it. God is speaking to us through his Word; we need to listen and take note.
What do I say to God in response? I think the most common word would be “thanks”, but let’s try to say more. Be bold. Be daring. You can say to God what you wouldn’t tell your mother, still less the queen. God’s majesty is exceedingly greater than hers, yet he longs to hear our childlike prattle.
How have I changed through reading the Word of God? Think about it. God is changing us every day.
It’s a good idea to answer these questions on paper, or, in my case into a computer, as my medical script is no longer legible, even to myself.
There’s tons of stuff on Lectio Divina on the web. Google it. From my study online, sometimes watching a teaching on YouTube, I’ve encountered at least two more stages to Guigo’s ladder.
Resolutio – What do I propose to do about it? Without a resolution the whole exercise is pointless!
The other, somehow in which the Word of God becomes incarnational in us, such that we become the Word of God to others who don’t know God. It’s a great way to get to know God ourselves.
I commend Lectio Divina to Anglicans. I believe passionately, not judgmentally, that we too need “a new spiritual springtime.”
Michael Burslem is a member of St. George’s Guelph.