As we’re focusing on becoming missionary disciples and diving deep into Matthew Kelly’s book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, I’d love to share my favorite way of getting to know God and growing in intimacy with Him: lectio divina, which is Latin for divine reading. It was through this prayerful meditation on scripture that St. Anthony of the Desert became a hermit, that St. Augustine became a Catholic, and that St. Therese of Lisieux found greater peace. In a much lesser way, it was lectio divina that paved the way to me becoming a missionary.
Lectio divina. It’s a fancy name for something that’s simple—a conversation with God using God’s Word, the Bible. The more I’ve prayed with Lectio Divina, the simpler it really seems to me. Models of prayer are just to help us be better conversationalists with God. The steps of lectio divina, in Latin, are lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio, and actio. In English, it’s reading, meditating, praying, contemplating, and acting. I remember first learning lectio divina and thinking that the steps were random and arbitrary. On the contrary! If we know why we’re praying with the Bible, the steps are anything but arbitrary.
Lectio divina starts with a pretty bold claim: God wants to tell me something today. He doesn’t just have some generic news, and He’s not holding out on me. He really wants me to know something for my good. And if that’s the case, the steps of lectio divina make total sense.
If God, the author of life and lover of my soul, has some word to tell me, and He’s given me His word in the Bible, you had better believe the first thing I’m going to do is read His word! And since I know He doesn’t waste words, I’ll only read a few lines, maybe a whole story from one of the gospels, but not much more. And I’ll pay attention to the part that seems to stick out to me—He is telling me this story for a reason, and so I know there’s going to be something in it that delights me, annoys me, angers me, confuses me, scares me, or otherwise stirs my heart.
I’ll read the part that stuck out again and again to make sure I understand it, or if I don’t, to see why not. I’ll turn the words over and over in my head. I’ll think through why it seems relevant to me. I’ll compare it to my own situation and ask if it is addressing something I have or something I lack. I’ll see if it’s poking some wound that I haven’t addressed or if it’s prodding at lies that I’m believing.
When I realize, after thinking for a long time on my own, that the Speaker of the words that I’ve been thinking about is actually with me right then, I start to talk to Him about what He said. I’ll ask Him questions to figure the passage out. I’ll ask Him why the part that stuck out sticks out to me. I’ll tell him how it made me feel, and what it is that I want/need/desire from Him in light of His word. Sometimes just the act of giving the Almighty a piece of my mind is enough to give me peace of mind. Sometimes telling Him what is going on in my heart eases my heart.
And sometimes talking to Him I also realize how powerfully He is looking at me. I am seen by God. Jesus looks at me. As I’ve been contemplating His word, He has been contemplating me, and He lets me know it.
If God has gone to such effort to create me and sustain me, and also to send me His word, odds are good that it’s all for a purpose. My life should change based on what I’ve read, thought, said, and received. What’s more, my life can change when my life is founded on His love.
Sometimes I sit with a passage for ten minutes, sometimes longer. Sometimes I keep coming back to the same passage for days or even weeks. If God really has something to say to me, it’s the least I can do to listen, think, respond, receive, and live differently. Lectio divina: it’s what an intimate conversation should look like.