Practicing Lectio Divina

In our corner of the world we are working remotely, staying home, and slowing down in hopes to slow the growth of COVID19 cases. The first week or so was new and sort of exciting but by now it’s set in that life will continue to look different in the coming months. I’m sure we all have mixed feelings about the forced slow-down. I know I do.

If you find yourself in a new rhythm of life, you may also find a little bit more room for family time, walks outside, solitude, preparing meals, or whatever else springs up when you’re at home.

As you recalibrate your routine, consider adding a new (or beloved) form a prayer, lectio divina. This form of prayer can be done individually or with a group.

“By its very nature, meditation is a discipline that enables us to slow down and respond with intentionality to the truth. We might compare this kind of reading to an extended meal that lasts through an evening, where each morsel and course is savored without hurry. We pause, consider, ruminate and take it in at a moderate pace, realizing that if we move too quickly we will miss something important.”

Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus
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photo: pinterest

What is Lectio Divina?

I won’t overcomplicate this type of prayer by getting too detailed, so if you’d like more information I’ll include a few resources at the very bottom. Essentially, there are only 4 elements. All you need is a passage of scripture and a notebook and pen if you’d like to jot down your thoughts.

“…the lectio divina honors the historical and human character of the Bible. It is important to stress that this kind of reading of Scripture takes the nature of the Scriptures seriously…We do not honor the Scriptures when we do not honor the way in which God brought them into being. Scripture has a fundamentally human character that must be respected if we are to appreciate its divine character.”

Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus

Lectio

Begin by reading or listening to a passage of scripture. The passage does not need to be too long; 10-15 verses will do. Many suggest reading the passage 2-3 times either silently or aloud.

What is the scripture’s literal meaning?

Meditatio

After reading or listening to the passage, meditate on the text for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to picture yourself in the passage. Consider how the scripture is relevant in your own life. Does anything stick out?

Where do I see myself in this passage?

Oratio 

When you feel ready, respond with prayer. Aloud or silently, spontaneous or with a prayer book, long or short — how you respond is up to you.

How will I respond to God?

Contemplatio

The final step is to contemplate how to practically apply what you’ve just read, meditated on, and prayed about in your day-to-day life.

Where in my life can I implement what I’ve learned?

Read more:

Guided Lectio Divina

If you’re like me and you like a little structure, here are some resources that might be helpful as you explore what works best for you. Most are relatively short and easy to listen to.

  • Contemplative at Home
    • “Guided meditative prayer sessions which help you slow down and listen for the truth that is being born out of God’s love for you today. Imaginative and contemplative prayer with gospel stories, psalms and other scripture, drawing on Ignatian Spirituality and Lectio Divina.”
  • Being Podcast
    • “You’re a human being, not a human doing. A podcast for taking a moment to just be.”
  • Exploring Peace Meditations
    • “Caring for your soul is vital to living a peace-filled and purposeful life. Join author and host, Whitney R. Simpson, for a regular dose of peace and calm for your breath, body, and spirit as you explore these practical mediations. Using yoga teachings and ancient spiritual tools such as the Prayer of Examen, Lectio Divina, and Breath Prayer, allow Whitney to companion you on your spiritual formation journey.”
  • The Slow Word Movement Lectio Divina
    • “Savor the scriptures with lectio divina with host and spiritual director, Summer Gross.”
  • slō
    • “This is a facilitated space for you to slow down and be still in the presence of God. Whether you are listening with a group, on your way to work, cleaning your house, or in a focused time of devotion, may your heart and mind be filled with peace.”
  • Exhale
    • A contemplative prayer podcast led by Pastor Faith Romasco.

Music

If you need some music to accompany your lectio divina or other forms of prayer or scripture study, here’s a few to get you started:

On Earth, Lissom, Salt of the Sound, Rhys Machell, as well as this album.

If you’ve prayed in this way, I’d love to hear about it!

Using the Book of Common Prayer and Other Prayer Books

How were you taught to pray?

I wasn’t so much directly instructed on how to as much as I watched how others prayed at church, before meals, and often before class. Spontaneous prayer was a frequent choice and sometimes the Psalms were used. People usually spoke from their heart and used common phrases of gratitude and names for God.

Another form of prayer was introduced to me in college through the Book of Common Prayer, which I describe more below. I wasn’t sure why it was being used or where it stood compared to scripture but I was intrigued. Could you really pray while you were reading the words from a page?

I soon discovered prayer books don’t replace scripture, nor do they replace spontaneous prayer or induce a “scripted faith” — they simply offer ways to draw closer to God through community. You may read the prayers alone or corporately. Either way you’re connected to the communal liturgy and broader (sometimes ancient) worship of the church. Sometimes I don’t have all the words to express how I’m feeling or what I’m sensing; a prayer book invites me into the prayer of another and reminds me I’m not alone.

photo: Lilian Dibbern

Here are a few I’ve picked up over the last couple years.

Book Of Common Prayer

This book shapes most of our regular Sunday services in our episcopal parish. There are many other churches who use prayers from this book, too. Perhaps this is one of the most popular, oldest prayer books out there and for good reason, no doubt. There are morning and evening prayers, daily devotionals, collects, creeds, Psalms, prayers for confirmation, baptism, marriage, ordination, sickness, thanksgiving death, church planting, and more.

Although somber, one of the most meaningful prayers for me is one we pray corporately every Sunday.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in though, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

— Book of Common Prayer, pages 359-360

(There is an album where some of these prayers are sung. It’s lovely.)

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

This is a beautiful collection of art, songs, and prayers. This prayer book also includes morning and evening prayers, as well as occasional prayers, but what is special about this particular book is one’s ability to use it as a daily devotional. It begins at the start of the liturgical year, the first day of Advent in December. Each day is a liturgy with prayers, a scripture reading, a brief paragraph on someone in church history, a space to pray for others, the Lord’s Prayer, and some include a song. (The sheet music is included in the back!) Each month has a theme and piece of artwork.

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”

— Common Prayer

(Someone created a playlist with all the songs used in this prayer book.)

Every Moment Holy

This might be my current favorite. There’s a prayer for everything; the artwork is stunning. You’ll find occasional liturgies as well as prayers during the loss of electricity, for those who feel awkward in social gatherings, and a table blessing for each day of the week.

I’ll allow it to speak for itself. This is an excerpt from A Liturgy for Changing Diapers I:

“…I am not just changing a diaper. By love and service I am tending a budding heart that, rooted early in such grace-filled devotion, might one day be more readily-inclined to bow to your compassionate conviction — knowing itself then as both a receptacle and a reservoir of heavenly grace… So take this unremarkable act of necessary service, O Christ, and in your economy let it be multiplied into that greater outworking of worship and of faith, a true investment in the incremental advance of your kingdom across generations…”

— A Liturgy for Changing Diapers I, pages 53-55

Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants

This one doesn’t have the same visual beauty as the last two books, but it does have a thorough devotional quality. Its outline follows the rhythm of the liturgical calendar with various scripture readings and quotes from authors, artists, and theologians. The general focus is geared towards those who serve in the church but I think most anyone would benefit from it if they enjoyed the style.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

This prayer book was given to us by a dear friend. The style is more traditional than the other books mentioned here but it could appeal to a variety of traditions. It lists short prayers by topic or emotion, and also includes morning and evening prayers. The book itself is small and leather-bound, which makes it handy to slip into a backpack or purse for everyday use.

“…May the truth that is in him illuminate in me all that is dark, establish in me all that is wavering, comfort in me all that is wretched, accomplish in me all that is of thy goodness, and glorify in me the name of Jesus… Uphold my steps by thy Word. Let no iniquity dominate me…”

— “Truth in Jesus,” pages 308-309

Prayer: Forty Days of Practice

Again, art and prayer are means for inspiration and reflection. Created by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson, this is a small, but powerful, book. These prayers are shorter, maybe a few lines or half a page, but they certainly give you enough to think on. I’ve shared many of Erickson’s pieces on my Instagram in the past.

“May it be enough for me to see God in the world.”

— Prayer 35

How do you pray? Do you use a prayer book?