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Week 8, Day 5: Holy Reading

Artist Mako Fujimura was once asked to explain how to “see” his paintings. He said:

It usually takes at least 10 minutes of sitting, quieting our hearts, and beholding the work before our eyes start to see, and our brain stops to try to categorize. My friend and fellow artist Bruce Herman says, “If you want to understand something, learn to stand under it. If you stand over it, you are ‘over-standing’ (bringing in your preconceptions and presuppositions) and not ‘understanding.’

The same applies to the Bible. It is too easy for us to bring our preconceptions and presuppositions to Scripture rather than allowing the words of God to speak to us. 

Lectio divina (pronounced ‘lexio’), a practice that has been used by Christians for over 1,500 years as a way of standing under the Bible, is something I have found tremendously grounding and helpful for my own spiritual health. It is a Latin phrase that can be translated “divine reading” or “holy reading.” One way of looking at is as a combination of prayer and reading the Bible. It builds on the knowledge we gain through inductive Bible study in order that we might not only hear but receive God’s word through Scripture; it also forces us to slow down, to create space for silence, listening, and reflection. In reading this way, we seek not only information but transformation.

Lectio was popularized by Benedict of Nursia (c.480-543), an Italian monk, who started an order that became known as the Benedictines. In AD 525, Benedict wrote his Rule for Monks, which laid out what life in the monastery would look like, including a detailed daily schedule. Lectio was a key feature of the monks’ practice, and was practiced regularly throughout the day.

LOOK & LISTEN: James Martin, S.J. on ‘Lectio Divina’

One key thing to note about lectio is that it is a way to read short passages of Scripture; the goal is depth rather than breadth. There are four steps in lectio — though before you begin, you should start with a time of silence, allowing yourself to settle into a receptive, reflective state. When you’re ready, you can proceed:

  1. Read/Listen. Read aloud a short passage of Scripture. As you do so, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you from the passage. What is the Holy Spirit drawing your attention to? What is the text saying?

  2. Meditate. Read the passage again. Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn. Make connections between it and your life at this point in time. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase? What is the text saying to me?

  3. Pray. Read the passage a third time. Take your thoughts, meditations and ideas and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks for God’s guidance and resting in God’s love for you. What is God asking you to pray? What do you want to say to God?

  4. Contemplate. Read the passage one final time. Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen for God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing himself to you? What difference will this text make in my life?


Practice lectio divina using a short passage — no more than ten verses. You can choose one of the following:

  • Matthew 11:28-30

  • Psalm 23

  • John 1:1-5

  • Zephaniah 3:17

  • Romans 12:1-2

Take your time!

Lectio divina forces us

to slow down, to create space for silence, listening, and reflection.

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