In our last post, we covered some suggestions for reading and studying Scripture. But what about the biblical practice of meditating upon the Word (Joshua 1:8)? Meditation may conjure up images of monks sitting in cells, repeating prayers. Or perhaps our only familiarity with meditation comes from the New Age practice of meditation and centering oneself. But there is no need to fear meditation. Meditation is simply the practice of contemplation and reflection. It involves slowing down, clearing your thoughts, opening yourself to listen, and pondering something.
Meditation can be challenging. It’s hard to get away from distractions, and once you do, it’s easy to let your mind wander or even to fall asleep while trying to meditate. But this shouldn’t discourage us. Perhaps a little guidance will help.
Lectio Divina (“Divine Reading”) is an ancient Christian practice for meditating on Scripture. Instead of studying or analyzing a text, Lectio Divina encourages us to enter into the text and ponder it. It is an invitation to encounter and experience God through the Scriptures.
To practice Lectio Divina, the first thing you need to do is pick a short passage of Scripture—usually a paragraph or two at most. The Psalms or stories about Jesus in the gospels are good places to start. For example, you could try this practice using the account of Jesus calling Matthew to be his disciple in Luke 5:27-31.
Before you begin, take a moment to slow down; sit quietly, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your time in Scripture. Then follow these four steps:
Read: First, read the passage several times. Try to read slowly, pondering the words. You might even try reading it out loud. Sometimes, reading out loud can help you better visualize the passage you are reading (especially if you are an auditory learner). Pay attention to any words or phrases that stick out or catch your attention.
Meditate: Next, ponder the passage for several minutes. If we were going to study the passage from Luke, we might stop after reading and ask questions like, “What did a tax collector do in the ancient world?” or “Who were the Pharisees and what role did they play in society?” However, the goal of meditation is not to analyze the text per se. Instead, pay attention to how the text is affecting you. How does the passage make you feel?
An extra step that you could try during meditation is to imagine yourself in the story. You can ask questions like, “Where would I be in this story?” or “Who do I most identify with in this story?” Are you a pharisee? Matthew? Perhaps you are one of Matthew’s co-workers, a disciple of Jesus, or even one of the crowd observing. How do you feel about Jesus’ call to Matthew? How are you receiving Jesus’ invitation to be a disciple? Does it make you angry? Excited? Confused? This imaginative exercise can help you visualize the passage.
Of course, you can see here why it is important to study as well as to meditate on Scripture. The more familiar you are with the context and background of the passage, the easier it is to visualize. It is obviously possible to imagine things that are incorrect about God or ourselves during meditation. Study is, therefore, essential for helping you to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions from your meditation. This is also why asking the Holy Spirit to guide our meditation at the outset is so crucial. The Holy Spirit is our guide in understanding and experiencing the Word.
Pray: The third step is to pray. Talk to God about what you have read and about how you are responding to it. Ask God what he wants you to see in this passage. Ask God to help you to be open to responding to the words of Scripture. Perhaps during meditation you were reminded of something in your own life that needs to be pondered or examined further. Talk to God about what you were experiencing and how you would like to know him more deeply in your own life experience.
Contemplate: Finally, take some time to contemplate the passage and your experience with it. How would you like to respond to what this passage is communicating? What questions do you have? What has been stirring in you during this time? Take time to consider how you might like to respond to God and ask him for the grace to respond in that way. Thank God for the gift of being able to spend time with him. This would also be a good time to write down some thoughts in your journal so you can review them later.
Lectio Divina is just one way to practice meditating upon Scripture. There are many other ways. For example, check out this article from the Gospel Coalition: “17 Ways to Meditate on Scripture.” Some people find biblical art helpful in meditation. You might check out a book like Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner to help with this practice. Finally, if you are interested in learning more about the practice of Lectio Divina, check out David Benner’s book Opening to God.