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By Dr. Alex Tang


Lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh di-vee-nuh) has been used for over 1,500 years. Literally, it means “divine reading’, ‘spiritual reading’ or ‘sacred reading’. The primary source of what is read in lectio is the Bible. It is gaining popularity as more and more people are finding it a powerful way to nurture their spiritual lives. As evangelicals, we have concentrated on the study of the Bible. We have come to know a lot about the Bible. But we have not been very good at applying the Bible, much less hearing God through the Bible. Lectio divina is an approach that builds on serious Bible study but moves to new depths as we open ourselves to God through the Bible.

PS 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

PS 119:15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.

PS 119:48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.

PS 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.


1.                  The history of Lectio Divina

The early monks and nuns approached the Bible by means of lectio divina. In the daily routine of the monasteries and convent, there is specific time set aside for study, prayer and work. One of the leaders to commend lectio divina as a spiritual exercise was Benedict, an Italian monk who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries (about 480-550).

During the time set aside for study, a monk (or a nun) would go to a quiet place and begin to repeat aloud a passage from the Bible. Often this is taken from the Psalms or Gospels. The monk would speak the passage out loud until a particular word or phrase strikes him. Then he would stop and ponder this word or phrase, understanding it to be a word from God for him. In lectio divina, the practitioner looks for direct message from God. This meditation (which is what he is doing) will lead naturally into prayer as the monk seeks to communicate with the Lord. As he moved further and further into prayer, he will come to a place where he rested in the presence of the Lord. This is the state of contemplation.


2.                  The process of Lectio Divina[1]

In the twelfth century, Guigo II. A French Carthusian monk developed lectio into a four step exercise:

2.1              Reading/Listening (lectio)

Read out a short passage of Scripture. When we read aloud, we become both proclaimer and hearer of the Word of God. As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you. What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?

2.2              Meditating (meditatio)

Repeat aloud the word or phrase that attracts you. Make connections between it and your life. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?

2.3              Praying (oratio)

Now, take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God’s love. What is God leading you to pray?

2.4              Contemplating (contemplatio)

Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing Himself to you?


3.                  Entering into Lectio Divina[2]

3.1              Select a passage, which you have read and perhaps studied previously so that text and context are familiar to you.

3.2              As you come to the text you need to slow down. You are coming to wait before God, a waiting upon Him.

3.3              Posture – are you sitting well? Kneel if you desire. Sit if you need to. Be comfortable. Create space – secure and peaceful. The environment –flowers, music, special place, outdoor etc. Mark of block of time – 10-30 minutes a day. Make it regular.

3.4              Centring(Centering) – integrating yourself – mind, body and spirit. Breathing exercise – palms up (to give up to God); palms down (to receive from God). Recall a gift; sing hymn; recite a creed, etc.

3.5              Initial prayer – invoke God’s presence. Announcing that you are ‘waiting upon God’. You are seeking His presence.

3.6              Turn to the passage – this is the passage for me; savor the words; appreciate its inner and hidden meaning for me; carefully and tenderly hold the words.

3.7              Read it aloud, slowly and softly. Notice the punctuation. Slow down and breathe more slowly. Watch for the commas and periods. Taste the flavor of the Word; hear the gracious Word of God; see the content of the Word.

3.8              Read it again ( or a third time). Gently dwell on each word, each phrase, each sentence. Read slower.

3.9              If distractions come, recognize them and tell them that you will come back to them later.

3.10          Attitude – patiently abiding in God’s presence and care of listening and looking in humble expectancy.

3.11          You can intersperse the reading with prayer, praise, petition, confession, or whatever comes into your heart.

3.12          Times of barrenness and darkness are also times of spiritual transformation. Do not depend on our feedings.

3.13          Stay with your impressions that come. Concentrate on one or two. Ask God to show you what they mean. Connect them with your present life issue/ problem/ circumstance, etc. Do you need assurance? Does it reveal your present situation? Are you in some need? Is it some issue you do not want to face at present?

3.14          At the end of the meditation, write down your impressions in your journal. Speak to your mentor or your close Christian friends or your spouse about them. Connect them to your life. This is important because some other person can help you make sense of what has been given to you. You can also check on God’s message to you.


‘For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”

                                                                                                    Hebrews 4:12 KJV

Recommended reading


Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Sacred Scripture in Spiritual Formation (Nashville, Tenn.: The Upper Room, 1985)


M.Basil Pennington, Lectio Divina (New York: Crossroad, 1998)

Richard Peace, Contemplative Bible Study (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1998)


[1] Richard Peace, Contemplative Bible Reading (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1998) p.12,13

[2] Tan Kong Beng, Handout Lectio Divina,  November Institute 1998, Malaysia Bible Seminari


Online Resources

Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina (Luke Dysinger  OSB)

How to Practice Lectio Divina (Luke Dysinger OSB)

A Ladder of Four Rungs: Guigo II on Contemplation (trans. original text on Lectio Divina)

Excerpts from the Rule of St. Benedict: Lectio Divina (The Order of St. Benedict)

Lectio Divina as a school of Prayer among the Fathers of the Desert (Armand Veilleux OCSO)


                                                                                                                                                                  Soli Deo Gloria

updated 24 December 2007

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