Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Dr. Tim Gray

Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina 
by Dr. Tim Gray, Ascension Press, 2009. Print.
Introduction: The Problem of Prayer

“Well, let’s now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. And we know that we are not alone in this.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Although we really do not know how to pray (see Rom 8:26), we are never left on our own when it comes to prayer. God has taught us how to pray both by His example and His teaching. He draws us to pray by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and empowers us to pray by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 1: The Secret of the Saints

“Diligently practice prayer and lectio divina. When you pray, you speak to God; when you read, God speaks to you” ~ St. Cyprian

The secret of the saints is to discover that you are, in fact, being addressed by God in Scripture (20).

“When you read the Bible, God speaks to you” ~ St. Augustine

You don’t need a mystic gene or divine epiphany to hear God, what you need is to take up the Bible and read (24). Scripture is living and active, and so it ever remains God’s Word spoken to whoever has the courage to pick it up and receive it (see Heb 4:12, Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 10:11).

Chapter 2: Lectio Divina – Stairway to Heaven

Lectio divina, “divine reading,” refers to the reading of Sacred Scripture in the context of personal prayer.

Guigo, a Carthusian monk, outlined four simple steps (lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio) for praying with Scripture in his classic work on prayer, Ladder of Monks. At the center of his method is the metaphor of a ladder that reaches to heaven. We must ascend one rung at a time in the proper order. Although God can lead our hearts at times directly to oratio or contemplatio, most often it will prove fruitful to ascend one rung at a time.

“We shouldn’t waltz into a chapel and expect instant contemplation any more than you would expect to walk into a vineyard and out the other side with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon. And yet, for some strange reason, we envision that we should be able to taste the rich fruits of contemplation without working in the vineyard of Sacred Scripture” (32).

Dr. Gray provides a helpful metaphor for lectio divina to harvesting a vineyard:

  1. Lectio – picking the grapes with great care.
  2. Meditatio – squeezing the grapes for their fruit.
  3. Oratio – Allowing the grape juice to ferment over time in an oak barrel to produce the sweet wine.
  4. Contemplatio – similar to how the wine is opened and its sweetness consumed.
  5. Operatio – we bring the wine of God’s Word to fruitfulness in our lives and in the world.

“We cannot keep this potent method bottled up and stored in the ancient wine cellars of the Church’s traditions. It is time to uncork the power of prayer in our daily lives, so that we can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:8).

Chapter 3: Lectio

If we want to hear God in our prayer, the first step is reading well.

“Reading Scripture well takes time, but, much like a fine wine, its taste only gets better” (51).

We must slow down, practice often, ask questions (who, what, when, where), recognize details (every word is important), discern patterns (repetition, etc).

Lectio divina consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, ‘ruminating’ on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its ‘juice,’ so taht it may nourish meditation and contemplation and like water, succeed in irrigating life itself” ~ PB16, Angelus Message, 6 Nov 2005

Chapter 4: Meditatio

Christian meditation, in contrast to meditation techniques aimed at emptying the mind, makes full use of the intellect in an effort to understand God’s Word and to hear God’s voice. We are to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

Christian meditation is the work of finding food for the mind, and the most nutritious food of all is the Word of God.

If lectio directs our attention to the “who, what, when, and where” of the passage, meditation seeks to understand by asking “why”? (63)

The goal of meditation is not to reflect on the highest number of items, but rather to go where the Spirit leads us. During our lectio or meditatio, our heart might be stirred by one particular observation. Stop there. Don’t just continue onto the next thing. Take time to go deeper and let the Holy Spirit move your meditatio to the next stage of your journey through lectio divina. It is what some call the longest road in the world… the journey from the head to the heart (75).

Chapter 5: Oratio

“The diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about the intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart” ~ PB 16

Oratio is the time when we start to talk through our questions, puzzlement, wonder, fear, complaints, and happiness regarding the things we discover on the sacred page. Grounded on the full teaching of the Church, oratio is a time to wrestle with God in prayer (see Gn 32:24-32).

The radical expectation behind lectio divina is that God will speak to you (88).

Chapter 6: Contemplatio

“Reading seeks for the sweetness of a blessed life, meditation perceives it, prayer asks for it, contemplation tastes it… contemplation inebriates the thirsting soul with the dew of heavenly sweetness” ~ Guigo the Carthusian

Contemplation, in the technical spiritual sense, is a terribly difficult thing to describe, because it has God as its subject and object – and God is not easily defined, or tamed (99).

Dr. Gray defines contemplation as a “gaze of love” (93). Contemplation is the fruit and experience of love; it takes time, like cultivating a vine in order to sip a complex wine.

Contemplation is the fruit and experience of love; it takes time, like cultivating a vine in order to sip a complex wine.

Whereas the first 3 steps require arduous effort, the last is effortless and yet beyond all our abilities of mind and will. Like gardening, prayer takes planting, tending, and harvest before we taste the fruits of our labors. Contemplation is more like an elevator than a ladder.

Contemplation is both a gift from God and the fruit of all our labor and openness to the Holy Spirit and His promptings in lectio, meditatio, and oratio. (104).

The Word must always be made flesh, and so contemplation must lead to deeds of love. The labor of lectio, meditatio, and oratio comes to a climax in the arousal of love that contemplatio names and that love spills over into action. (108)

Chapter 7: Operatio

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22)

Only one thing is necessary, as Jesus said to Martha: to hear the Word of God and do it.

“Above all things, my daughter, strive when your meditation is ended to retain the thoughts and resolutions you have made as your earnest practice throughout the day. This is the real fruit of meditation… You must diligently endeavor to carry out your resolutions, and seek for all opportunities, great or small” ~ St. Francis de Sales

Write down your resolutions in a small notebook and carry it with you during the day… Nothing will help you grow in humility like writing down your daily resolutions and then going over them at the end of the day and reviewing them at the end of the week. Daily resolutions ground us in reality, and help burst the inflated balloon of our pride, which has an amazing propensity to self-inflate (115).

Pinpoint specific things you can do to grow in virtue. The vital thing is to go after a particular virtue and pursue it with relentless regularity.

Other possible steps to add:

  • Collatio – “discussion” – in a group setting.
  • Statio – “position” – creating a quiet & prayerful place for the prayer.


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