The Man Born Blind
Understanding the Tradition
What is Lectio Divina?
Sacred reading, or lectio divina, is the art of praying the Gospels. Sacred reading was originally done in community. In the earliest monastic communities, when few could read and books were rare, the Scriptures were read in common. The monks and nuns memorised words and phrases and contemplated them throughout the day. For us today, sacred reading is generally done individually. It requires of us a slowing-down time and silence, and a simple being with the word of God. We need to let go of the anxieties of life, become still, and give ourselves wholly to meditating on the word of God.
Sacred reading is slow reading. Each word and phrase is savoured. The key to it is to allow the text to ‘speak’ to you. A word or phrase will emerge for deeper contemplation. Slowly repeat this word or phrase over and over, savouring its meaning for your life. This is known as the movement from the head to the heart. You may be moved to pray spontaneously or you may become more and more silent, allowing the Spirit of God to take over and pray within you. Here you leave the text behind and rest in silent contemplation. Later you will return to the reading from which again will flow meditation and prayer.
Sacred reading tends to follow this cyclical pattern:
Many centuries ago, a Carthusian monk described this art of praying the Gospels in the following way: reading puts food into the mouth; meditation chews it over and over; prayer extracts its flavour and goodness; contemplation is the deep sense of contentment and refreshment that accompanies the ‘eating’.
Preparing to Pray
The following points provide a simple process for sacred reading or lectio divina.
This can be practised individually or in small groups.
- Establish a quiet place and regular time for sacred reading. Choose a text that you will stay with for many weeks or months, e.g. the Gospel of Mark.
- Enter God’s presence with reverence and humility, ready to ‘listen’ to and to be changed by God’s word.
Pray a simple phrase such as: ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening!’
- Open the Gospel text;
- Begin to read slowly;
- Savour the text, exploring the images and emotions contained in it;
- Meditate on the presence of Jesus Christ in the text;
- If you are moved to pray, express your desires and feelings spontaneously;
- Finally, let go of all words as well as the text, and enter into silence. Rest in God, as God rests in you.
An Exercise in Sacred Reading
Find a place where you can be still and silent.
Place yourself in God’s presence and begin to read the following text very slowly, pausing regularly to absorb the meaning of the words and phrases.
Reading: The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way (Mk 10:46-52).
Possible phrases for meditation:
- Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
- Have mercy on me!
- Take heart… he is calling you.
- My teacher, let me see again.
- Go; your faith has made you well.
- Your faith has made you well.
If you are moved to pray, express your desires and feelings spontaneously. St Benedict advises that prayer ought to be brief rather than wordy. Jesus also advises against using many words in prayer.
Finally, let go of words completely, and enter into silence. Simply enjoy the presence of God. Rest in God, as God rests in you. You may wish to conclude by writing your prayer phrase on a small card and carrying it with you throughout the day. Bring it to mind whenever you can.
In the Classroom
Lectio Divina (sacred reading) is a simple practice, and is ideal within the classroom. The flow of Lectio works well at the beginning of a lesson, prayertime at the beginning of a day, or as a way to reflect on a passage of scripture used for analysis or exegetical study at a more senior level.
Students will become comfortable with Lectio Divina over time. If possible, practise this way of prayer consistently (e.g. once a week/fortnight, rather than only occasionally) in order for students to feel comfortable with it and pray more deeply.
Lectio divina is a process of deep reading and listening, allowing the words to speak in a personal way. It is more akin to reading poetry than to rational analysis. When practising in the classroom it is helpful to read the Scripture Passage a few times to allow students the time to engage in a process of deepening prayer and reflection. In general, this process involves four parts (or moments). These are only a guide and can be adapted to the needs of the group. The four moments are as follows:
- Moment One: Listen –Students are invited to listen to the passage with the ear of the heart and let the words sink in deeply.
- Moment Two: Reflect –Students are invited to reflect on the passage paying attention to how it speaks to them personally. There may be a word ot phrase that stays with them.
- Moment Three: Respond – Students are invited to respond through prayer (publicly or privately).
- Moment Four: Rest –Students are then invited to rest silently in God’s presence.
Preparing for Lectio Divina in the Classroom
Catholics read the Bible seeking the wisdom in the text, rather than with a literal approach. This means putting scripture passages into context keeping in mind the historical situation and audience, the literary form and themes of the particular book, and the teachings of the Church. As a way to introduce scripture passages used for Lectio Dvina, and to assist your students relate to them more easily, it may be helpful to briefly put the passage into context. Biblical commentaries can help you to do this.
It is also helpful to provide some time to prepare the students for Lectio Divina. If possible, clear a space in the room and create a calming environment, e.g. dim the lighting, light a candle, sit the students in a circle. Students can sit either cross-legged on the floor or upright on chairs. Simple relaxation activities allow students to make the transition from the busyness of the day and to move into a more receptive mode, even if just for a few minutes. Do this without haste. Go slowly and allow periods of silence. Here are some simple relaxation exercises that help prepare students for prayer. You can adapt them to your own needs.
As with all prayer, the fruits of Lectio Divina occur in daily life. To conclude the time, it is important to invite students to reflect on how the prayer has informed their daily lives. Students can be directed to use their prayer journals through reflective questions such as:
- How am I being challenged to change my behaviour in daily life?
- In what ways am I being challenged to engage in life more generously, or to discontinue harmful activities?
- How has the prayer given me a new sense of direction?
- Are there ways could I take action to make this come about?