Lectio Divinia: Reading Scripture Prayerfully

by William C. Mills


There are many was to read scripture. Sometimes we read scripture in order to learn more about the culture and world in which the scriptures were written. We learn about the various languages, people, and places. Then we read scripture for the content, we try to understand the words, phrases, and meanings. We consult Bible dictionaries, concordances, and Bible atlases which help us learn about the message in the words of the Bible. Then we can read scripture in a prayerful manner, which we call lectio divina, holy or divine reading.

It is tempting to read the scriptures quickly and then move on to the rest of our daily activities. We are very busy people. We live fast pace lives. Our bodies and minds are constantly moving a mile a minute. When we sit down for five minutes for some rest we still might be thinking: What do I have to do later today? What time is my lunch meeting? Who will pick up the kids from school? Do I have enough time to finish my errands? Where is my “to do” list?
When reading scripture we can easily get distracted. We begin reading a passage from scripture and we get distracted by so many thoughts and we miss the message of the scripture lesson. Lectio divina forces us to slow down.

Lectio divina requires that we need to take time with each passage, think about what we are reading, and then ask ourselves: how can this scripture passage be understood or applied in my life today? What is God saying to me now? What difference can these words make in my life? When reading the Bible slowly we allow the words to run over us like water running over our head, slowly seeping into our very skin and bones. So too, we read the Bible in a slow way, allowing the words to flow across our minds and hearts. Lectio divina, or simply called lectio, is a slow, meditative way of reading scripture by which the reader ruminates or actually chews on each word, considers what the word means, and how it connects to the rest of the scriptures. Lectio takes time and cannot be rushed.

Practicing lectio divina requires time. You cannot practice lectio if you are in a hurry. You have to take time away from family, friends, and busywork and find a quiet place to sit. I like to sit in my office because I know that it is usually quiet there and I feel comfortable. Other people may find another place in the house or maybe in your backyard or on your front porch. You have to literally remove yourself from all distractions. Open up your Bible and read a few passages from scripture. The rule of thumb with lectio is less is more. Find a short passage, even a few verses and read them several times over. For example, let’s imagine that you begin reading the first few verses of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Make sure we read each word slowly. Read the first verse, “The Lord is my shepherd.” What does it mean that the Lord is your shepherd? He is not just any old shepherd but your shepherd. If the Lord is a a shepherd, this means that we are his sheep. How are we like sheep? Do we always follow him where he leads us? Are we always obedient to his every command? Likewise, how does God restore my weary soul in times of doubt or distress? In the ancient Near East shepherds led their sheep out from the dessert areas and into the lush green valleys near streams and rivers so that the sheep could find food and water. He would walk in front of them with his staff while at the same time making sounds with his mouth or with a bell so that the sheep would know where he was. If a few sheep were hanging at the back of the herd the shepherd would go and get them. He led them across small streams, slept outside with them in the evening, and brought them to dry ground during a rainstorm or during inclement weather. In other words shepherds was totally committed to taking care of their sheep. You might also refer to Luke chapter 2 where we encounter the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks. They were camping outside with their sheep under the moon and stars on that first Christmas morning. The shepherds did not just let their sheep wander around, they watched over them.

Therefore, after reading just a few verses from Psalm 23 and learning a little more about sheep and shepherding in the ancient world, we begin to see how God is our shepherd, taking care of our needs, giving us what we need when we need it. He watches over us and leads us to still waters. We are not alone, as the prophet Isaiah says, “God is with us” and God was, is, and always will be with us.

If we begin reading the scriptures with lectio in mind we will begin to unlock the vast meaning of the words on the page that will come to life for us. However, you will also find that when practicing lectio you will return to God’s Word again and again throughout the day. As you walk your dog in the evening you may remember that the Lord is your shepherd. While driving to work in the morning you might think about the Lord leading you to the still waters and no matter what happens with that big decision that you have to make at work, you will be okay with the results. Later at home in the evening you might recall that as a sheep you need to listen to God’s voice throughout the daytime, reflecting on your life in terms of your work, family, friends, and Church. You might be inspired to offer a prayer after reading the passage asking God to continue to watch over his sheep and for us to be more obedient to him. Thus lectio is a way that we can prayerfully read scripture and use the scripture as a vehicle for our prayer.

Resources for lectio divina:
Bianchi, Enzo. Praying the Word: An Introduction to Lectio Divina. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1998

Peterson, Eugene Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009

Studzinski, Raymond Reading to Live: The Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publication, 2009

“The Art of Spiritual Direction”

Close Window