Introducing the Contemplative Practice of Lectio Divina

Father M. Basil Pennington, OCSO


The basic procedure for lectio divina is quite simple:


1.       Take the Bible with reverence from its place of honor, and open it to a passage of your choosing.  

2.       Calling upon the Holy Spirit, for ten minutes (or longer, if you are so drawn), listen to the Lord speaking to you through the text and respond to God.

3.       When you finish, choose a word or phrase (perhaps one that will have been ‘given’ to you ) and thank the Lord for being with you and speaking with you. 


More briefly,

1.       Come into the Presence and call upon the Holy Spirit.

2.       Listen (read or hear) a portion of the Scripture for ten minutes.

3.       Thank the Lord and take a “Word”. 


Additional means to help you carry the text with you:


1.       Memorize the word or phrase that is given to you.  Take it with you for consideration through the day.  

2.       Read the passage slowly, more than once if so inclined, taking care to hear the words in your mind and being alert for any that strike you as significant. 


The essence of lectio lies in that loving consideration of the text. The model for that, Father Pennington said, is Mary, described in Luke's gospel as "pondering in her heart" what Jesus said and did. Traditionally, such "ponderous" reading has been termed "ruminative." As the 12th-century mystical theologian William of St. Thierry put it: "Some part of your . . . reading should . . . be . . . taken as it were into the stomach, to be more carefully digested and brought up again for frequent rumination. . . ."   The traditional image is the cow chewing her cud bringing up portions of the sacred text committed to memory throughout the day. 

I would suggest a slow reading of the text, pausing as you go to let the words sink into your heart. Let each word that strikes you enter your very being.

Though simple in principle, "when we say lectio, we imply a whole process," Father Pennington said. The process has four parts: lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. Lectio is "receiving the word." Meditatio is "carrying that word with you until it calls forth from the heart" oratio -- prayer. "When that response comes, you simply rest in it -- that's contemplatio."

How does the beginner choose a text? Which should one read, the Old Testament or the New?  For most Christians, Father Pennington said, "the best place to start is the Gospels, because they're so immediate, so present, so simple. But use any part . . . the part that you think is going to be most helpful to you right now."  Some people use the reading of the day prescribed  by their church.  Others simply prayerfully choose a book of the Bible and read it from beginning to end as they are drawn through it each day. 

Suppose you don't understand the passage?

"Well," he said, "you're sitting with the Master. Ask Him: What are You trying to say to me now? Lectio is not the time for academic study though one’s knowledge of Scripture will enable one to approach Scriptures  intelligently. 

Lectio is distinct from Bible study in that it is not basically a matter of understanding the text critically.   The purpose of lectio divina is growing in relationship with God, who is communicating God’s own life to us in the sacred text. The words, of course, are full of meaning. But it is the Presence pointed to by the words that transforms us.

What if the passage one reads conjures not words but images?   "What comes, comes," Father Pennington said. "Some people have more vivid imaginations than others. You can tell it's from the Lord if it produces the fruits of the Spirit in your life -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness."

Though lectio is usually done by individuals in private, Father Pennington said, it also can be a group activity, with the family being an ideal forum. "If parents want to hand on their faith to their children, this is one way that is very powerful, because really take Jesus seriously."

"Try everything. Find out what works for you. But fundamentally, however you do it, this is what to remember: God does not listen to lips. God listens to hearts."

“Just BE in love. Your daily practice of meditation will bring a renewed and deepening love for the scriptures, and the scriptures will quicken your heart for your meditation”, says John Main, OSB. 


A site on the Web which allows you to see the daily Mass readings according to the Roman Catholic rite is

Another resource for Web lovers is the Tabula Lectionis Divinae (Table of LD) where you can join a mail list of people discussing LD:


The Mail list for Contemplative Outreach is