What is lectio divina?
Lectio divina (literally, “divine” or “inspired reading”)is a prayerful way of reading scripture with roots that stretch all the way back to third century Egypt. Though Christians have almost always looked to the Bible as the basis for their prayer, the procedure for lectio was formalized by monks in twelfth century France as a tool for solitary meditation.
In recent years, especially in places where poverty makes books difficult to come by, lectio divina has come to be practiced in groups as a form of community prayer through bible study. Some groups have also started using the techniques of lectio to read books other than the bible in community, creating a secular space where they can share thoughts and meanings and intentions with one another.
Lectio, Love First style
Though there are different ways to do lectio, there’s no right or wrong way. What’s important is that you slow down, think about the text you’re reading carefully, and let meanings emerge through a patient practice of attention and/or conversation.
As the Love First Project considered ways to cultivate empathy during the coronavirus crisis, as well as ways to offer opportunities for spiritual formation to families isolated and home from church, we created what we’re calling Love First Lectio.
Love First Lectio is a way to read the bible on your own, with a sibling or child or parent, with your whole family either in person or through a computer, or with members of your larger community through your computer.
It works like this: once you’ve chosen a scripture passage (see page three for some lessons you might start with), the process has three stages, Lens, Mirror, and Window, and (no surprise) in every stage the important thing to remember is Love.
In the Lens stage of reading, love is the lens through which you read your lesson. Read it slowly, to yourself or to whomever you’re reading with, and while you do, look for love in the passage you’re considering. Reflect, either silently or aloud, upon where love is and what love looks like in what you’ve read. Sometimes love might be obvious, sometimes it might be hidden. Sometimes love might look how you expect it to look, sometimes it might surprise you. Just slowly and patiently look for love, and when you find it, name it, and describe what form it takes in the lesson or story you’re read. You are reading your lesson through the lens of love.
In the Mirror stage, the lesson’s love is the mirror against which you read yourself. Read your lesson again, and this time try to see yourself in the lesson, or the lesson in you. Reflect once again upon what love looks like in your lesson, but this time try to find that love in your own life. Can you see the love you have found in the bible in your life? Where? Is it missing? What might you do to find it? What does the love you have just discovered in the story tell you about who you are or who you might become? How does what you have just read help you see yourself and your own life in a new or different way? You are reading yourself through the mirror of love.
In the Window stage, the lesson’s love is the window through which you view the world around you. Read the passage a final time, and this time consider what the world around you looks like when you bear in mind the love you have found. Who or what do you see that you couldn’t see before? What’s beautiful now that was plain? What’s special that was ordinary? Is there a stranger who suddenly looks more like a neighbor, or an enemy who might someday become a friend? Does the lesson make you thankful for someone or something? Does it make you worry about someone or something? Are there people you think you might like to help, or are there ways you can help them that you hadn’t considered before? Viewing the world through the lesson’s love, what does the world look like now? You are reading the world through the window of love.
Lens, Mirror, Window: in this way, you can keep love close at hand as you let the scripture speak to you and as you speak to one another about God’s love for you and your neighbor and the world. To give you an example, here is a portion of the gospel lesson for Easter morning this year, with some possible reflections that might come about in each stage of the lectio.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Lens: Look for love in the lesson. I see it in Mary’s weeping. I also see it in Jesus comforting Mary, and in Mary going to tell her friends that she has seen Jesus.
Mirror: See this love in your own life. Love looks like sadness and weeping here, but it also looks like offering comfort in the midst of sadness. I might talk about a time I lost something or someone I loved, and reflect upon those who comforted me in my sadness. Or I might talk about times I offered comfort to those who were sad.
Window: View the world through this love. I would think about the people in my own life, or in the community around me, who are scared or sad and I’d wonder about what I might do to help them. Or, if I happened to be sad or scared myself, I would think about the people who are a comfort to me, and about how God’s love moves through them.