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Lectio Divina: Opening up to scripture

This description of an ancient way of praying with scripture is from American Episcopalian theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault.

In Lectio Divina, you work intensely on a short scriptural passage in four distinct steps, each one calling on different faculties in your being.
A good way to start is with the reading of the day or perhaps a favourite passage, like the woman at the well (Jn 4).
Before beginning, take a moment to get yourself centred in your being, to remember that Lectio Divina is a form of living encounter, a sacred space. Allow yourself to open and to trust that this encounter will be a real meeting.
First stage
Sit in a quiet place and read the chosen passage slowly and aloud if possible. As you do this allow yourself to be drawn to a sentence, a word or phrase that seems to reach out to you, to peak your interest or your curiosity.
Part of getting the knack of Lectio Divina is being able to follow the movement of your own spirit, to see what calls to you. Perhaps it’s a phrase like ‘whoever drinks of this water will be thirsty again but whoever drinks of the water that I give will never be thirsty.’ Or perhaps it’s something a lot simpler or even out of left field. Perhaps you’re struck by ‘Jesus said to her, “give me a drink”.’
The important point is not what you’re struck by but to really trust that as you open to the scripture in this living, open way, something will be calling you. Stick with it.
Second stage
The second step in Lectio Divina is known in its official Latin name as meditatio or meditation. Quietly allow your faculties—your reason, your imagination, your memory, your emotions—to begin to work with the passage.
Sometimes the passage you’re working with might trigger an emotion from your own life or it might stimulate your thinking, or confuse you or even make you angry. See if you can discover why. Whatever the thought is, stay with it, bring all of your imagination to bear on it.
Another way of working is to take the part of one of the characters in the passage. For example, you might imagine that you’re the woman at the well.
Try to follow this dialogue, to see what you’re feeling as you’re led step by step along this path to encounter with Jesus.
Don’t be tempted to seek an expert analysis of the text. This is about learning to be open and let the passage resonate in the authority of your own heart.
Third stage
The third stage in the tradition has been called oratio the Latin word for prayer. If feelings arise in you from this deep, heart-to-heart encounter with the scriptural words, let the feelings happen. Sit there and let them shape themselves into a prayer. That’s what oratio literally means. Perhaps you might find that ‘give me this water that I may never be thirsty again’ might be the prayer of your own heart. Go with the flow of that yearning.
Something in the passage might fill you with tears, or gratitude, or move you deeply. This is where the spirit begins to pray within you, sometimes with sighs, and groanings, as St Paul says.
Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. You’ll sit with a passage and even though you’re engaged with it, it still doesn’t move you to any felt stage that you would call prayer. If nothing is stirring for you at that level today, just go on to the next stage.
Fourth stage
The last stage is known as contemplatio which the monks from the time of St Gregory the Great in the sixth century defined as ‘resting in God’. It’s a time when you simply suspend all your mental and emotional energy. You let it go. You stop doing the Lectio Divina and begin to let it do you. So don’t think, go to that place where you let go of all thoughts, activities and worries and just rest.
If you give half an hour to this practice a day, or even every other day you will begin to see a dramatic difference in how you become at home with scripture and use it as part of your own creative process.
This is taken from Encountering the Wisdom Jesus, a series of CDs on contemplative prayer.