A Relationship with Jesus
In the first part of our introduction to lectio divina, we focused on defining this ancient practice of prayer and examining its theological foundations. Building on what we have learned, we will now turn our attention to the more “practical” elements of lectio divina, or as Jean LeClerq succinctly calls it, “prayed reading”. (1) In doing so, we shall continue to use the “journalistic” questions as our organizing principle, this time concentrating on “When should we practice lectio divina?”; “Where should we practice lectio divina?”; and “How should we practice lectio divina?”. In answering the last of these questions, we shall take some time to describe the dispositions we ought to cultivate before we even begin lectio divina and to present some useful tips for the practice of each of its four dimensions (lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio). Throughout our discussion, we must recall one essential point, namely, that lectio divina has as its primary goal the establishment of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and, through Him, with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. In lectio divina, God speaks to us through the Sacred Scriptures, which the Fathers of the Church poetically portray as God's love letter to His human family. (2) We, in turn, listen to this divine Word and offer our response in prayer and in our daily lives. God touches our hearts, and we offer our entire selves to Him. Therefore, everything we do in lectio divina must serve to foster this divine-human relationship. From our preparation, through reading, meditation, and prayer, and if God so wills, into contemplation, we must focus our attention on God, seeking Him, building intimacy with Him, loving Him, and perhaps even meeting Him in a communion beyond our highest expectations.
When Should We Practice Lectio Divina?
Let us turn, then, to the first of our “practical” questions and examine the timing of our lectio divina. Cistercian monk Michael Casey warns us that we must be “realistic” when it comes to planning our prayer schedule. (3) We should choose a time during the day when we are most alert and least distracted. This could be in the morning when we are rested and have not yet begun our daily activities. Or perhaps an evening time slot might work better because by then, as the Venerable Bede says, “We are weary after the day's work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.” (4) In any case, we must choose a time when we are most able, or at least ready and willing, to put aside our daily concerns and interact with God. We might have to experiment a bit with timing to discover the best opportunity for prayer in our busy schedules, and we might even, as Casey says, have to develop a “backup” plan to help us cope with our ever-changing lives, but most importantly, we must make a commitment to practice lectio divina at some point each and every day and to be as consistent as possible in setting aside time to read, meditate, and pray so that God, as He wills, can draw up to meet Him in the intimate union that is contemplation. (5) After all, if we are seeking a personal relationship with Jesus, we have to make time for Him! Even human relationships cannot grow and develop if the people involved do not meet regularly to get to know one another. The same is true of our relationship with God. We must find the time, take the time, make the time, or if necessary even steal the time (from other activities, of course) to connect with God in the Sacred Scriptures. Only then will our relationship with Him grow broader and deeper, and only then will our hearts open up to His loving and changing touch.
This brings us to one more question concerning the “when” of our lectio divina, namely, “How long must we spend reading, meditating, and praying the Bible?”. Again we turn to Michael Casey for our answer. He tells us, “Lifelong exposure to God's word is more like a marathon than a sprint. It makes more sense to get something started in an imperfect state than to procrastinate forever. It is better for morale to spend five minutes once a day and stick with it, than to plan on a longer duration and fail to find time.” (6) In other words, we can start slowly if we want to, scheduling a few minutes daily to meet God in His Word. Probably, however, as we discern the depth of meaning present in the Bible and realize how much God has to say to us, we will want to spend more time in lectio divina. Mario Masini suggests that to “allow for the tranquil development” of all four dimensions and avoid too much “effort and fatigue,” we should spend between one and two hours in lectio divina each day. (7) This may seem like a long time, especially to those who have little experience in reading, meditating, and praying the Bible, but when we think about how much time we spend, or perhaps waste, every day watching television or surfing the Internet, we might ask ourselves if an hour or two is too much to spend with the God Who has given us our whole lives. Ultimately, when it comes to making time for lectio divina, we must remain both committed and flexible, truly committed to meeting God regularly in His Word and flexible enough to select the times and durations that will best help us to do so.
1. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1998), 18.
2. Ibid., 79, 83.
3. Michael Casey, Sacred Reading: The Art of Lectio Divina (Ligouri: Ligouri/Triumph, 1995), 80.
4. John E. Rotelle, ed., Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1988), 85.
5. Casey, 80.
7. Mario Masini, Lectio Dvinia (New York: St. Pauls, 1998), 75.