In-Sight: Lectio Divina (2)

Lectio divina has four classic phases: oratio. lectio, meditatio, and contemplatio.  More-recent versions have added a fifth phase (actio) to be sure that we do not forget that the final aim of our reading is the amendment of life and the application of God’s word to our real-life situations.

The “phases” are not steps to take, and then move on.  Much less are the “boxes to check.”  They are a dynamic interplay of thoughts and actions which create an encounter with the text, not just a mental grasp of it.

Lectio divina first emerged as a way to read the Bible, and that is still its primary function.  But it is a method which can be used with any text, and also with the exploration of visual images as well.

Lectio begins, continues, and ends in the “environment” of prayer (oratio).  Indeed, as we said yesterday, it is a form of prayer.

In the beginning it is a prayer of desire.  One ancient expression was this:  “Give me a word that I may live.”  Even a cursory look at the prayer shows that it puts us  into a receptive mode (“give me”), a selective mode (“a word”), and an effective mode (“that I may live”).

The life is defined in relation to Jesus’ words, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).   Oratio is asking that the life of God—as revealed in Christ—might live in our souls.  It is a prayer that we might be shaped internally in ways that will fuel a life of Christian discipleship in the world.

For most of us, oratio occurs in response to a movement into solitude and silence.  We cannot incline our hearts to God “on the run.”  We must slow down, relax, and prepare ourselves for the God-human encounter.  There’s no set amount of time for this.  But we should not short-change this opening experience, for it sets the trajectory of all that follows.

You may want to do an exercise that many have done in oratio:  breathe in (“give me a word”)—breathe out (“that I may live”).  You will probably have a sense of when you have done this ‘enough’ and that you can now move on.  Oratio is the opening phase which connects receptivity and relaxation.  Lectio is one means for “resting” in God.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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