Lectio Divina: Sensing God's Presence and Speaking in Reading the Bible
Updated: May 28
How might we engage in reading the Bible? We can read scripture in a variety of settings and ways, i.e., through individual study, participating in Bible study groups, hearing the Word in worship services with our faith communities, as part of lamenting over losses through reading of the Psalms, or as a means to spiritual transformation.
Lectio divina, also known as “sacred reading” and “divine reading,” is an approach in which we engage our hearts as well as our minds in reading scripture (1,2) and that can lead to spiritual transformation in our lives (3). In his book on Opening to God, David Benner considers lectio divina as prayer “because it is an opening of self to God” (4). The practice of lectio divina has its roots in the early Christian church, especially among the monastic communities such as that started by St. Benedict (5).
Through practicing lectio divina, we pay attention to how God might be speaking to us in a chosen passage of scripture. Such an approach embodies Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
So, how do we engage in lectio divina? First, it can be practiced either in solitude or with others. It involves reading and/or listening to a short passage of scripture several times over in one sitting. In-between readings, pauses are inserted to give space for sensing God’s presence and speaking and our personal reactions to the Word.
Traditionally, lectio divina has involved four different movements associated with the reading/hearing of the scripture passage four consecutive times. Each time, a different question is asked. Ideally, we begin lectio divina with a time of silence (silencio), allowing space to “be still” and to acknowledge that “God is God” (Psalm 46:10). Then participants proceed through the following four movements:
1. First reading (lectio). The participant(s) read or listen to the passage, being attentive to whatever stands out to them.
2. Second reading (meditatio). This reading involves a time of reflection or pondering that engages both mind and heart. What stands out or resonates with you? Is there a word, phrase or sentence that speaks to you?
3. Third reading (oratio). In this movement, we pay attention to our responses. How do you feel about what you are hearing and what might being going on in your life to generate such feelings? What is stirring in your heart? Are you sensing that God is calling you to respond through a change in attitude or a specific action?
4. Fourth reading (contemplatio). After this reading, we relish and rest in God’s presence.
Reading or listening to a short Biblical passage with no more than five to ten verses usually works the best with lectio divina. A shorter passage allows more time to engage deeply in each verse.
I have personally found it easier to participate in lectio divina with a partner or in a group setting than on my own. Guides are available, however, that can help engage in this practice without a partner. One such guide is the book Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-on Guide to Lectio Divina that contains forty meditation exercises by Jan Johnson (6).
Are you ready to try out lectio divina? You may find this practice life-transforming through the space it provides to sense God's presence and speaking to you.
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 50.
2. David G. Benner, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 47.
3. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, 50.
4. David G. Benner, Opening to God, 49.
5. David G. Benner, Opening to God, 48.
6. Jan Johnson, Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-on Guide to Lectio Divina (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 11-12.