Steps of Lectio Divina: The Four Movements

Lectio Divina is not as fancy as the name might suggest. I would use a different name, but this one has such an ancient tradition that I will leave it be. Remember, though, that it is just a way to read the scriptures devotionally. In this article, we are looking at the four movements, or steps, of lectio divina.

Reading the Bible to Get to Know God

You can read the Bible to find out facts about Jesus, learn Israelite history or to explore questions of theology. Most people, however, just want to know God personally. They want to grow in their faith. Lectio divina is a simple but profound way of doing exactly that. While we are looking at the traditional steps of lectio divina here, what I love about this way of prayer is that it is so flexible. It can be adapted in so many ways. If you are not familiar with this way of reading, I would encourage you to try it and see what you think.

Four Steps of Lectio Divina

In the last article, I wrote a little bit about how Lectio Divina envisions a slow and gentle process of reading prayerfully through scripture and being formed by it. This time, I want to give an overview of the different movements in Lectio Divina. I will expand on each of these in subsequent articles.

Traditionally, there are four movements in Lectio Divina, and they make simple logical sense.

1) Read a passage of scripture

2) Think about it

3) Pray about what you thought about

4) Don’t rush off. Let it sink in.

That’s it. Super simple. But the beauty of Lectio Divina is that the more you do it, the more profound the movements can become. Let me say a brief word about each movement.

1) Read (Lectio)

(I will give you the Latin titles too, just for interest’s sake.) This way of reading is different than how you would read a newspaper. Typically, when I am reading the paper, I am also eating lunch and involved in a conversation with my wife. I am usually scanning headlines to see what interests me. When I find something, I usually read pretty fast because I want to get through the article and on to something else. At the end, I throw the whole thing in the recycling.

Reading devotionally is the opposite in every way. The reading needs to be short so I can read it slowly, perhaps a few times. I try to get away from distractions, and I keep the passage with me through the day. This is a contemplative form of reading. It is not just for information, but for encounter. It requires attention and humility.

2) Think (Meditatio)

A better English word would be ponder. Thinking sometimes gives too much the impression of problem solving. Pondering is slower. It means something like weighing or considering. The image I like to use is imagine a young man who has just received a letter from his girlfriend. (Back in the days when there were letters!) He doesn’t just read through it and put it in his desk. He lovingly and attentively reads and re-reads certain lines. This is his beloved speaking to him through words. Those words are rich in meaning. He squeezes every bit of meaning out of them and looks for more. This is meditation in the Biblical sense.

3) Pray (Oratio)

As I said in my first article in this series, we believe the Bible was written “for them, but to us as well.” The idea is that in pondering scripture we find that God still has a word for us today. There is something in there that will stand out to you. It will speak to the questions you have today. It might be crystal clear what God is saying, or it might be unclear and odd. Either way, our first step is always to go to God in prayer.

We take the insights that we found in pondering and we pray to God about them, asking for insight and wisdom. We might ask for help in applying the insight. It might be a prayer of thanksgiving. In Lectio Divina, we let this process flow naturally.

4) Sit (Contemplatio)

This is the hardest movement to explain because it is the simplest. What do you mean just sit? In my experience, at the end of this process, after I have read, and pondered and prayed, my heart is calm. My mind is relaxed. Inside, I have found what I call a devotional space. (This doesn’t always happen, by the way, and it doesn’t have to.) Sometimes I find there is a deep love for God inside. Sometimes it is just a pleasant quiet. The Christian tradition advises not to rush off, but to enjoy just being with God. Even if you don’t feel something, our tradition still advises to sit there for a time and reverence God.

5) Live (Via Activa)

Wait! You said there were only four movements. There are, but there is also an implied fifth movement. Christianity is a way of life. You need to go from prayer to your life: going shopping, picking up the kids, visiting your friends, going to work, doing the dishes, watching TV, and making dinner. In all of these, your prayer goes with you. Through the prayer, over time, you will come to see the grace of God everywhere.

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