Reading: Reading in the monastic tradition involved placing the divine word on the lips. It was a focusing and centering device. One would gently read a selection from the Bible, and when a thought, line, or word stood out and captured the reader's attention, he or she would stop there and dwell on that text, carefully repeating it over and over. At each distraction one would simply return to this repetition. He or she would stay with that same text until it dried up, and would then move on with the reading until finding another engaging text. Classically, the monk would do this repetitious reading out loud, proclaiming the word to his or her own senses, praying with the whole body. This first element is very simple, nothing more than verbal focus on a biblical thought, like placing the word as food in the mouth. In this way monks committed to memory the word of God bit by bit.
Meditation: Once the word of God is on the lips and in the mouth, one begins to bite and chew it; one begins to meditate on it. To meditate means to ruminate, to chew the word, dwelling at leisure on a morsel to extract the meaning of the text. Every word of Scripture was seen as intended for oneself. Every text spoke of Christ and of the prayer. The monk personalized the text, entering into the meaning and identifying with it. This is the second element of Lectio Divina. Meditation employs in an intuitive way all the faculties. One does not work hard at this prayer, but simply keeps listening to the words being repeated, letting them suggest their own images, reflections, intuitive thoughts. The whole process is basically intuitive, a right-brain activity (as is said today), like reading a love letter over and over again. Every word is savored and every thought made one's own. (Lovers even memorize their favorite passages!) The meditator ponders and perceives the hidden lessons in the word of God in such a way that wisdom for life is learned. Meditation seeks to acquire the mind of Christ. One slowly begins to see what the scriptures are saying. The meditator begins the lifetime task of hearing the word of God so as to keep it. Meditation is basically hearing the word that lectio (reading) is repeating.
Prayer: With the help of grace, devout thought engenders prayer, the third element of Lectio Divina. The word of God moves from the lips to the mind, and now into the heart. Oratio or prayer is the response of the heart to the word of God we have heard addressing us through the Scriptures. Basically, prayer in this sense desires the grace of the text so ardently that it demands the needed graces of God. (Guigo II speaks of imperium, a command issued to God from our dire poverty that desperately depends on the salvation only God can give.) Prayer here is the whole affective component of meditation. It is petition, it is affective conversation with sentiments of love, it is resolution to grow in the virtues of Christ, it is compunction of heart for one's sins, it is silent company-keeping, it is the loving gaze. Like the other elements of lectio, the affective dimension grows and develops. It moves toward simplicity and on into an acquired contemplation. Prayer desires God.
Contemplation: The fourth element is contemplation. Here God slakes the soul's thirst and feeds its hunger, according to Guigo II. God gives the meditator a new wine and lifts him or her above the normal meditative self into the sphere of experienced transcendence. Here at last is an infused element of prayer. Here the Spirit prays in the human spirit. One experiences a state of inner harmony; carnal motions are quieted; the flesh is not at odds with the spirit; the person is in a state of spiritual integration. The light of God's presence shines through the soul experientially. The love of God is no longer abstract, but concretely poured into the receiving self. One can see oneself being loved and loving in return. Clearly, we are speaking of pure gift at this point. These moments can be fleeting or prolonged, subtle or pronounced. They can go and come again. They can mingle with the flow of meditative words repeated, thoughts reflected, intuitions enjoyed, resolutions enacted. But the person is more still and passive; our God is passing by.
(Extracted from: Sam Anthony Morello, OCD, Lectio Divina And the Practice of Teresian Prayer, this article originally appeared in the Summer 1991 issue of Spiritual Life. Copyright Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included.)
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