The 9 Qualities of Lectio Divina by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

In his article, “Are You Afraid of the Thief?” A Cordial Approach to Lectio Divina, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis shares the 9 characteristics of good lectio divina. Although some are instinctual and some must be consciously learned, “all are mere aspects of a mysterious and complex central act of loving encounter” (450).

1. Leisurely.

Lectio must have a leisurely quality in which we slow down our mental processes, quiet our emotions and desires, and set aside our need to achieve something palpable (like taking away a concrete result or lesson).

  • Leisure, Josef Pieper has famously said, is “the basis of culture,” and lectio too cultivates the human heart so as to activate its highest potencies. The leisure required to seek God and hear his voice should be for us, in a sense, a return to Eden, to the sanctum otium of paradise, to which the monastic authors closely relate the paradisus Scripturarum, “the paradise of the Scriptures.” Leisure and paradise go together. We know that all of us give our free time spontaneously only to what we truly love and gives us delight.

In our culture of busyness, we have to make a gigantic effort to create opportunities for leisure in our life.

  • “Pascal spoke of our colossal fear of falling into our own nothingness, should we be perfectly at rest for even five minutes; and yet our salvation lies precisely in plunging fearlessly into the dreaded abyss of our acknowledged nothingness, which faith can transform into the enfolding abyss of God’s merciful love” (451).

Advice: Don’t rush. Don’t try to cover a specific amount of text. Set aside “leisure time.” Be as generous as possible.

  • Is it not a major test of where our heart’s treasure really lies to ask ourselves to what it is that we gladly devote our free time and with whom we wish to spend our leisure? Our personal time is perhaps the greatest gift we can give anyone. Will we deny it to God?

2. Ruminative

Lectio should involve “ruminating the Word”, that is, “chewing the cud” of individual words over and over in the “mouth” of my intelligence and imagination, until all their potential for nourishment has been depleted, at least for the present”

  • We should develop a love for each inspired word because it points to the Incarnate Word.

Tip: Apart from actually learning Hebrew and Greek, it’s very useful to compare different translations to make sure that your reading is not needlessly impoverished by the necessarily reductive choices that every translation must make. Such a comparing of translations would also set a nice leisurely rhythm that is not rushing to get anywhere.

3. Cordial

Lectio thrives on the freedom of the heart to follow its own instincts, like a dog on a leash that is always thwarting its master’s preconceived trajectory by lunging into the bushes and tugging its owner along.

  • Cordial logic—the logic of the heart—must be granted primacy over strict linear logic and efficient reasoning, because the logic of the heart is the logic of love and it dares to make adventurous forays and leaps where reason only trudges one secure step at a time. 452

4. Contemplative

Lectio must involve an interior silence, a readiness to listen, and a high receptivity of spirit and imagination to engage in

  • “our contemplative act of gazing upon God’s glory on the face of Christ results in our being transformed into what we contemplate, namely, the divine nature” (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; 4:6, Merikakis 453).

5. Disinterested

Lectio should be “disinterested” in the sense of being without predetermined goals or functions, in the same way that the so-called “liberal arts” are free because they are their own end.

  • Lectio should be thought of as belonging deep within the spiritual life of the priest or teacher, as the privileged wellspring and sustaining ground of his prayer. Lectio will bear the fruits that only it can produce precisely if it is cultivated for its own sake. For, as we have already said, the apostolate is a byproduct of a person’s union with Christ. 454

6. Provocative

The living Word and our encounter with it are a “pro-vocative” experience in the sense that here God calls us forth imperiously out of our comfort zone and offers us new life on his own conditions.

  • Already in paradise Adam and Eve hid from God, and in his love for them, in his desire to be with them, God had to be provocative, literally so: “The Lord God then called the man forth and asked him, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself’” (Gn 3:9–10). This tense bit of dialogue is precisely the situation in which we, too, will often find ourselves in the “paradise of the Scriptures,” as God seeks to bring us to himself out of hiding. He will not let us cower in self-protective gloom! And who can understand the depth of our own shady complexity and self-contradictoriness as we seek simultaneously both to encounter God and to hide ourselves from him? 454-5

If we expose ourselves deeply and humbly to the power of God’s Word, he will come to us as both gentle rain (Dt 32:2, Is 55:10–11) and two-edged sword (Heb 4:12), as both a consuming fire and a hammer shattering rocks (Jer 23:29) and also as a soft caressing breeze (1 Kgs 19:11–13), as both principle of new life and fruition and as a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon who must painfully cut if he is to heal. 455

  • Only after it has inflicted pain can God’s Word console. Bernanos said that the therapeutic Good News of damnation must precede the consoling Good News of salvation.

7. Ecclesial

We read the Bible with unending gratitude to the Church, because it is she who is its rightful owner and guardian as primary recipient of the Word of her Bridegroom. It is from the Church that we receive the Bible, both as proclaimed in the liturgy, its native element, and in its written form.

  • We read the Bible within the Church as members of the Church, which means that we read it with the heart and mind of the Church – with a Marian disposition – and in the light of the Church’s faith, which we have freely made our own at Baptism and Confirmation. If we do not listen to the Word in harmonious union with the Church, we will be tone-deaf and distort everything we hear.

8. Transbiblical

With this word I refer to the need for our lectio to “breathe” freely by our allowing a tranquil free-association to occur between our particular text and many other texts that may be evoked by it in our minds. In other words, we must never lose from sight the totality of Scripture as God’s integral self-revelation. 456

  • The freedom of a transbiblical approach rests on the fact that, from the ecclesial standpoint, the Bible is the complete inspired canon of God’s one revealed Word, richly varied and endlessly complementary in its sources and genres and yet admirably unified and deeply harmonious in its internal correspondences and the homogeneity of its divine intent. 457

Allow the spontaneous echoes of other biblical words and passages that I allow to come and interact with my present contemplation. Scripture is its own best commentary, as the whole New Testament attests in its use of the Old.

  • This freely evocative approach I recommend has characterized the lectio of all the Fathers of the Church and all the saints. On any one page of Bernard of Clairvaux, for instance, there can be anything from five to twenty direct or indirect allusions to biblical texts other than the one he is pondering. And yet, these are not really “quotations” or “supporting texts.” There is ample evidence that almost always he is spontaneously “belching” (his word: eructare!) biblical passages that are always fermenting in his memory. Bernard so internalized the whole of Scripture by a lifetime of assiduous lectio that what he offers in his writings is a seamless and magnificently nourishing text of his own. At first glance you would not notice its transbiblical nature if it were not for the editorial footnotes and italics. 459

9. Mystagogical

This quality, above all the others, is what merits for lectio the adjective divina. Lectio divina requires that the person engaging in it open himself or herself up subjectively to transformation—indeed, to divinization—by habitual contact with God’s fiery Word.

  • “Mystagogical” refers, then, to the interior process whereby the disciple, led by the Spirit, gradually puts on the mind of Christ and is gradually initiated into the mysteries of his Heart.


  1. Noel Anonymous says:

    This is an excellent teaching. Thank you.

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