Meditating on the Word of God
Lectio Divina (Latin for “sacred reading”) is a special kind of meditation on the words of Scripture. Lectio Divina has been esteemed by the Church for centuries as a form of prayer that yields many spiritual fruits. All of us have favourite passages in Scripture that we return to time and time again. Lectio Divina is the practice of sustained reading of the Holy Scriptures in prayer, perhaps focusing on a particular passage, that enables the mind and heart to be drawn into the mysteries of God. Holding onto each word and allowing the mystery behind the words to be unveiled transforms this reading of Scripture into prayer.
Christ is the Word made Flesh (see John 1,14), and so the reading of Scripture draws us into a profound meditation on the mysteries of Christ. The knowledge of Christ gained through this type of prayer is of “surpassing worth” (Philippians 3,8) but, like all forms of Christian prayer, the purpose of Lectio Divina is not only knowledge but also union with Christ. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4,12). Lectio Divina attests, more strongly than any other form of prayer, to the power of God’s Word to pierce into the mystery of the human soul and draw it into communion with Christ.
The mystery of meditation
There is something in the human soul that desires meditation. The busy and cluttered life that we live in society, at work, and in our homes is sometimes a reflection of the chaos and confusion in our souls. We get caught up in the world and lose sight of the meaning of life and the purpose that God had in creating us. The practice of meditation helps us rediscover that inner peace where we are alone with God.
It is clear that we are in search of answers to what is most troubling. A glance at any bookshop reveals this; the number of self-help books is staggering. Many devote some pages to the benefits of meditation of some sort. Because this interior restlessness is a universal experience, most religions encourage the practice of meditation, and even people who are not believers use meditation in their search for inner peace.
The Church respects the great spiritual masters of other religions who have taught the mystery of meditation, but at the same time recognizes the fundamental difference between their disciplines and Christian meditation. The essential difference is Jesus Christ, who is both the path and goal of Christian life and prayer. While some aspects and techniques of meditation may be shared between Christians and those of other faiths, the centrality of Christ and the gift of faith set Christian meditation apart from all others.
“Meditation is above all a quest” (CCC 2705). It involves concentrating our thoughts, imaginations, emotions, desires, and will on the words, stories, and events that fill the Scriptures and the holy writings and faith-filled lives of God’s saints. Meditation is quiet time spent in the conscious presence of God, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. For example, by contemplating Jesus’ words, such as, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14,6), or by “sitting with him” on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, it becomes the experience itself. By conversing with him walking along the Jordan, we tell him what we think, feel, and desire, and we listen to him as he responds. We come to know what he would say if he were physically there. We tell him how we have failed to measure up, how we would like to change, and eventually we ask his help to bolster our resolution to be better – more like him.