Giles Fraser, erstwhile Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, has a regular column in the Church Times. On 28 October 2011, written before but published after his resignation, he wrote: “one of the most interesting things about these challenging times is how scripture comes alive. Indeed, I do not remember the Bible ever speaking to me as vividly as it does today. As the saying goes, I don’t read scripture: scripture reads me.”
He may have been using the ancient and modern monastic practice of lectio divina, which is one means of opening ourselves to God’s word. Lectio divina can be loosely translated as ‘spiritual reading’, but does not just involve reading. It consists of four movements: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio.
Lectio is the slow, attentive reading of the chosen scriptural passage, and noting of words or phrases that grasp the attention. Meditatio is the pondering over the text, ruminating on it in God’s presence, maybe focusing on one of these words. In oratio, we allow the text or word to sink into our deepest selves, and allow God to work through them for healing and wholeness. And then all things fall away, and we remain in contemplatio, a simple, wordless contemplation of God and a resting in God’s presence. It is not always that ordered, and sometimes lectio might lead straight to contemplatio, for example.
Ideally, lectio divina is practised at a regular time, daily if possible. The scriptural text should be chosen in advance, and might be the gospel for the day set in the lectionary. The place should be free from distractions, and some visual focus might be helpful. It is important to spend some time in transition from daily activity to the time of prayer, maybe through focusing on the breathing and a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
At Mucknell Abbey, I learnt a practice of corporate lectio divina, a weekly gathering for prayer and sharing of insights about Sunday’s gospel reading. We spent 45 minutes together:
- Start with a moment of recollection.
- The leader reads the passage through, pauses for a moment and reads it again.
- In turn, each member of the group shares the word or phrase that has struck them. Anyone may simply “pass” if they wish.
- The leader reads the passage for the third time, after which there is a silence for 10 minutes during which people are free to remain seated or go to wherever they wish to ponder/sit with the text in whatever way they wish.
- Once everyone has returned the passage is read again, after which every member of the group, in turn, shares whatever they wish. Each must feel free simply to say “pass”.
- When everyone has had the chance to share, the leader invites the group to pray for the person on her/his right for the space of a minute, after which there is the opportunity for a general sharing.
- End with the Grace or Lord’s Prayer.