One way to grow in your walk with God is to practice an ancient form of prayer with the Scriptures known as lectio divina, which means “divine reading”. The following steps outline a method:
1. Preparation: Pick a suitable, quiet location to begin your meditation. Then make sure you are in a posture suitable for praying – comfortable, but not so comfortable that you might fall asleep; usually sitting or kneeling. After this, try to place yourself in the presence of God. Recall that God is with you and try to imagine Jesus present in the room with you, or in your heart. After you get a sense that you are in God’s presence, ask Him to inspire your meditation and help you to avoid distractions. Pray to the Holy Spirit for help as well.
2. Lectio – Reading/Listening: Now it is time to open up the Scriptures. You can use any set of passages in the Bible, though the Gospels are often the best place to start. After picking a section to read, trace the sign of the cross on the page with your thumb and begin slowly reading the text. Concentrate on the words that you are reading and their meaning. Keep reading slowly until a particular word, phrase, or sentence stands out to you. Pause at this point and reflect upon it. Ask the Lord why this word/phrase/sentence stands out to you. At this point, you are moving on to the next step, meditatio. If nothing stands out the first time through, don’t worry, just begin reading the section you chose again, slowly and with attention.
3. Meditatio – Meditation: Now you are reflecting on the word, phrase, or sentence that stands out to you. During this time you may repeat it again and again, slowly, seeking the meaning of the text, or you may reflect on the meaning that is immediately clear to you. The meaning of the text may be its literal meaning or a spiritual or unique meaning, and it may be a general truth or a truth spoken directly to you. This is a time of listening to God’s Word alive and active in your heart.
Don’t force it! Let God’s Word penetrate your heart and lead you in unexpected ways, yet always remaining faithful to the doctrine of the faith, for God will never lead us contrary to what He has already revealed. Perhaps the Lord will impress upon your mind a truth of the faith leading you to praise Him, to do some good deed, or to repent and change your behavior in some area of your life. Or perhaps He just desires you to rest in His loving embrace, made present to you in His Word. When you have moved into these areas, you have moved on to the next two steps, oratio and contemplatio.
4. Oratio – Prayer: Now you are speaking to God in response to what you are reading and meditating upon, you are conversing with Him about His Word. You may be praising Him, thanking Him, asking forgiveness, or for greater insight into the Word, grace to do His will, etc. If during this time you lose your heart’s focus on God, you may go back to reading or meditating. The point is not to move lock-step from one step to the next, nor is it a matter of simple input/output, but we seek to let the Holy Spirit, through the words of the Bible, stir our hearts to fix upon God and what He is saying to us. Perhaps He desires to remain mostly silent for the time being: No matter – the point is that we seek Him. He will reveal Himself to us in the way and at the times that He chooses, for our own benefit.
5. Contemplatio – Contemplation: If God chooses, He will lead you from reading, meditation and prayer to the enjoyment of His presence on a deeper level. In contemplation you become in some way absorbed in God and in His words, for as long or as short a time as God wishes. All we can do is receive it, and prepare our hearts to receive it again. Do not think that it is purely a matter of feelings, for it can be received even when experiencing great dryness or darkness.
Ultimately, the practice of lectio divina is meant to lead us to this contemplation, this communion with God, as well as to loving action in service to others.
Try to practice lectio divina regularly, even daily. Perhaps you will take it up for the remainder of Lent. It is a practice well attested to by the saints and will bear much fruit. Also, see Pope Benedict XVI’s brief account of lectio divina given in paragraph 87 of his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.