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The 4-step formula for reading and digesting scripture: Lectio Divina

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Kimberly Cook - published on 02/24/17

The reader goes beyond the words of the text in front of him to the actual encounter with the Living Word of God.

“Make knowledge of the Scriptures your love … Live with them, meditate on them, make them the sole object of your knowledge and inquiries.”
~St. Jerome

The first time I visited the Croatian Embassy on DC’s famous Embassy Row, I couldn’t help but take notice of the solitary statue of St. Jerome the Priest directly outside. St. Jerome was sculpted in bronze by artist Ivan Meštrović and originally donated to the Croatian Franciscan Fathers, as Jerome was born in the territory of Croatia and is beloved by Croatians.

The statue was captivating — the saint sat hunched over a book of Scripture, one hand on his head in pondering agony and the other hand almost melting into the Scriptures. A Croatian priest explained to me that the statue was meant to show how Jerome’s many long hours spent with Scripture began to actually change him. His once hostile and at times even volatile nature softened and transformed into a more Christ-like persona.

Yet, sometimes opening the pages of Scripture can be daunting and intense (hence the pensive hand gripping St. Jerome’s head in the sculpture). Where do I start? How do I understand what I’ve read? Most importantly, how do I know what God is saying directly to me through his word?

It’s true that the depth of Scripture is made up of layer upon layer of history, tradition, and divine inspiration. That is certainly not to be discounted. But as St. Jerome said, “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever reaching the bottom.” Only God could inspire a text so complete that each of us can read it and learn more about him each time we do. As Vatican II told us, in Scripture, “God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son.”

One of the most beautiful traditions of praying with Scripture, dating back as far as the 3rd century, is Lectio Divina — or Divine Reading. Lectio Divina helps the faithful follow a basic four-step formula of reading and digesting scripture:

  1. Read (Lectio)
  2. Meditate (Meditatio)
  3. Pray (Oratio)
  4. Contemplate (Contemplatio)

Lectio Divina helps the reader go beyond the words of the text in front of him to the actual encounter with the Living Word of God. It guides the reader to develop a prayerful posture of contemplation, giving him inspiration and wisdom to recognize the direct divine work of Christ in his life.

I compare this type of prayer to properly enjoying a fine wine or decadent dessert — one in which you slowly smell and taste and savor with every sense. The delightful flavor of that deep wine or rich chocolate lingers on your taste buds for hours.

Praying with the method of Lectio Divina isn’t difficult. Begin with the Gospel passage for the day or upcoming Sunday, reading it slowly and carefully – out loud if you choose. Sit quietly with the words, allowing them to be digested fully. Perhaps go back and read the passage again, listening for a word of phrase or idea that is being particularly spoken to you in this moment. Discuss this word or idea with God, thanking him for the light, asking him to bring his word to fulfillment in your life, that you may be able to recognize and act upon it. Contemplate the depth of the meaning of the words you have just read and allow that truth to transform and continue to elevate you.

The slow and thoughtful process of reading Scripture, in which you properly taste, enjoy, and digest its meaning is the most fulfilling. As the statue of St. Jerome so accurately portrayed, when one allows the truth of the Word to transform them, they are spiritually elevated closer to Christ in all ways. The appreciation of the experience lingers deep within us and can be easily recognized by those around us.

More to read: Praying the Jesus Prayer: Mercy with every breath

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