How and Why I Use Lectio Divina

Nothing against devotions, but I needed something more. I wanted to delve deeper, but I can only carve out a few times a year for inductive Bible Study. Where does that leave me?

When our son died, the liturgy didn't work for me anymore. I despised going to church and crying in front of everyone. As a pastor's wife, I felt watched. Even in my despair, I was keenly aware of eyes on me. Church was Phoenix's favorite place. He wanted to be a pastor like his Daddy. He would pretend to lead mass in our playroom, wearing his blue bankie as a chasuble. This heaped more pain onto the space. Every children's message felt like they were announcing over the speakers, "All the children who are still alive, please come forward." Even as our younger son toddled forward, all I could see was the vacant space where Phoenix should be. And that empty space sucked me under like a black hole. No, church was no longer a space where I could be spiritually fed.

Because our son died for no medically known reason there's an added layer of trauma we've struggled with. Anxiety chokes me, strangles me, suffocates me. My Christian counselors began suggesting meditation. I tiptoed into the practice warily. I'd practiced yoga sporadically in the past, so I started with Sara Ivanhoe's Candlelight Yoga. I tried guided meditation CDs with little success.

Then, I experienced the worst panic attack of my life thus far at an airport. It was humiliating, but it was also a wake-up call to take my anxiety seriously. I started incorporating my take on Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation to calm my nerves -

Breathe in: Present
Breathe out: Smile
Breathe in: Calm
Breathe out: Thank You

And while this simple method does help bring me back from the edge, I knew I needed more tools in my emotional health toolbox to prevent another breakdown. This led us to our first Silent Retreat (See previous posts) where we were introduced to Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. As mentioned in an earlier post, Centering Prayer was not a practice that helped me, but Lectio Divina nourished me in a whole new way. Lectio Divina is an ancient Christian practice that dates to at least the 6th Century in Benedictine monasteries, but it may have been practiced earlier. You can read more history here. (As a side note, I am infuriated when dogmatic Christians frown upon contemplative practices as "New Age" and "Eastern," when in reality Christians have been using these methods to grow closer to Christ from the beginning.)

Growing up Lutheran we were taught to "read, learn, and inwardly digest" Scripture. That sounds a lot like the practice of Lectio Divina. It goes a little something like this:

{Silencio} - Take a few minutes of silence, or if you have young kids mucking about, 3 breaths

{Lectio} - Read the Scripture passage aloud a few times

{Meditatio} - Write down words or phrases that jump out at you. If you have a Study Bible, this is a great time to read the scholars' notes.

{Oratio} - Write a prayer of response to what you've read.

{Contemplatio} - Rest in God. Again, take a few thankful breaths. Sit still. Feel seen & loved by God.

Isn't that beautiful? If you're already reading through the Bible or a particular Book in the Bible, try this exercise. As a busy Mom, I needed some hand-holding. There are printables of the Lectio Divina if you do a quick Google search. Those didn't work for me. I saw a picture of a journal on Ann Voskamp's blog with no citation, and promptly found the Lectio Divina Journal, a spiral bound 6 month devotional guide for only $10. I love this resource! The repetition feeds my desire for those deeper, inductive Bible Studies that I can't do every day. For example, every Friday we read from Proverbs. Every Wednesday focuses on a Psalm. One day is from the Gospels, one day is from the Epistles. You get the idea. I also love that this journal adds one more category to the Lectio Divina:

{Incarnatio} - Once a month they challenge you to act on your prayer. They list ideas for service.

The weekends leave open spaces for journaling and the Examen prayer, but I'll save my thoughts on the Examen for a later post.

When I'm not participating in an inductive Bible Study, Lectio Divina is my daily practice. This participatory prayer is my gateway to a contemplative life as I sit surrounded by deadlines & dirty diapers. It's brief, meaningful, and packs an uplifting punch. Meditating on God's promises in this way calms the troubled waters of grief and anxiety.

If you'd like to learn more, I recommend reading

Lectio Divina - The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

Opening to God - Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer

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