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What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina (a Latin expression which means sacred reading) is done in three stages:

•  Reading: you read the passage slowly and reverentially, allowing the words to sink into your consciousness;

•  Meditation: you allow the passage to stir up memories within you, so that you recognize in it your own experience or that of people who have touched your life;

•  Prayer: you allow the meditation to lead you to prayer- thanksgiving, humility and petition

The basic principle of lectio divina is that Bible reading is a personal encounter with God, a communion which resembles (though different from) the communion of the Eucharist This goes against what has prevailed in our church for some centuries: the text was seen as containing a message - doctrinal or moral - and once we got the message, the text had achieved its purpose

In lectio divina , we love the text, linger over it, read it over and over, let it remain with us.

When we approach the text in this way, we come face to face with the fact that it speaks to our imagination. A Bible text is not like a textbook or a newspaper, providing us with objective information.

It was not written like that. Instead it stirs up feelings; we find ourselves identifying with the characters - we feel for them admire them or dislike them.

We are caught up in the movement of the text, its suspense, its dramatic reversals of fortune, its unanswered questions.

Gradually we 'recognise' the text; we find that we have lived the sequence of events ourselves, or have seen them lived in others who have touched our lives, for good or for ill.

Reading the text becomes a homecoming - a lifting up. We find ourselves caught up in the movement of God's people, 'fellow citizens with the saints' ( Ephesus 2: 19 ); we are the lowly ones whom God 'lifts up from the dust and sets in the company of princes, yes the princes of the people.' ( Ps. 113: 7-8).

Lectio Divina like all imaginative communication - especially storytelling - teaches not directly but by changing the consciousness of those who practise it. By identifying ourselves with God's people- Jesus, the prophets and great men and women of the Old and New testaments - we find ourselves adopting their attitudes.

We also recognize ourselves in the bad characters of the text - the Pharisees, Pharaoh, the apostles when they were jealous of each other - and find that we want to give up these attitudes.

The Bible, recognized as coinciding with our experience, reveals to us the truth about life - not abstract truth, but an ideal we hunger and thirst for and, from another perspective, an evil we recoil from.

In the Bible text, therefore we discover the double reality of every human person - a story of sin and a story of. They are not equally true, however - the story of grace is the deep truth of the person, their 'true name', the wheat which God will gather into his barn; sin is the chaff that will be burnt in a fire that never goes out (cf Mt. 3 : 12).

Lectio blossoms spontaneously into prayer in three dimensions:

•  Thanksgiving that Jesus is alive in the story of grace;

•  Humility that the story of sin is alive;

•  Petition that the story of grace may prevail -"Come Lord Jesus"

In Lectio Divina we experience the true meaning of theology - entering through Bible reading into the wisdom of God or, more accurately, allowing God- alive - in the - Bible to lead us into wisdom, humbly, gratefully and with awe, like St Paul on the road to Damascus.

The wisdom of God gives us his perspective on every aspect of life: one - to - one relationships, but also economics, politics, agriculture etc.

Lectio Divina is best taught and practiced with the church's Sunday lectionary as it was reformed after the Second Vatican Council. It has its shortcomings, but overall it is a wonderfully constructed three-year programme in Bible reading.

By being faithful to the lectionary in this way, we experience ourselves in communion with the church and, through the church with all humanity, sharing in the grace and the sin of our contemporaries. We can say of Bible reading what St Paul says of the Eucharist: ''We though many, form one body because we partake of the one bread'

(1 Cor 10-17).

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