The art of Lectio Divina has evolved into four traditional steps for us today. The first step is reading, the second step is meditation, the third step is prayer, and the fourth step is contemplation. There are two related steps that I have added, however, that invite us to engage in further actions that will change others and ourselves. They are compassion and action.
The first step of reading (lectio) is an act of reverential listening that is based on the idea that when we read scripture we are listening to God speaking to us. When we begin to reflect on the meaning of the words we enter into the next step of meditation (meditatio). This second stage involves reflecting on the values that one finds revealed by the text. Thus, the transition from hearing the text to interacting with the text makes this step an important one.
The third step of prayer creates a dialogue with God. The passage from meditation to prayer allows one to take one’s experiences of the first two steps to God for further revelation. The next step of contemplation allows one to not only accept divine revelation but also to rest in God’s transforming embrace. It is at this point our earlier efforts of communion with God may become obstacles and passive receptivity is required for further growth in one’s relationship with God. It is at this point that we can come to realize our responsibility of compassion and action.
The first step of lectio divina is appropriately called lectio (reading). At this point, it is important to distinguish between praying and reading. Quite simply, when we pray we speak to God and when we read God speaks to us. Thus, lectio is not ordinary reading. It involves listening or hearing scripture.
Oratio (prayer) is our response to God. The first two steps—reading and meditating—involves God communicating to us. This next step involves communicating to God. The first two steps allow the words to touch and awaken our heart. Now that one listened to God’s words one should allow them to penetrate one’s heart. To do so means to take the words that God has communicated and to let them change our deepest self.
The transition to contemplation is a result of moving further away from the experiences of thinking and talking and into the areas of feeling, sensing, loving, and intuiting. Prayer becomes a transforming power that helps us to ground ourselves in the present and to stay there. Doing so allows us to sharpen our awareness of ourselves in relationship to God, our neighbors, and ourselves.
Thus, contemplation begins with calm acceptance of the transforming embrace of God. Transformation is needed because, if we meant what we prayed, God will penetrate our hearts with love. Such love, however, opens us up to the brokenness of all creation. It is at this point that we begin to feel that we have gone beyond the words of our texts and into a union with the divine Word.
To be Christ-like is to be compassionate. There are three linguistic expressions of compassion that underline what it means to be compassionate. The Latin root words literally describe compassion as “suffering together with another”. The Greek root words literally describe compassion as “a wrenching of one’s guts”. The Hebrew root words literally describe compassion as “a powerful emotion of birth that yields personal and societal transformation”
Therefore, being compassionate means to enter into the deep wounded heart of the world. This means to identify with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the dying, the exploited, the oppressed all whom God identifies with. However, when we open ourselves to the hurts and pains of the world, we inevitably open ourselves to our own hurts and pains as well. Too often, we have experienced brokenness in our own lives and need the transforming embrace of God.
Once we have reached this point, we are at the threshold of action. One step of action could be to begin to avoid our own hurts and pains by avoiding the hurts and pains of others. The other step of action allows God to transform our pain by using us to heal the pain of others.
The first step of lectio divina began with reading the word and now ends with an astonishing intimacy with God. There is nothing left but to move to action—action that will bring healing to others and ourselves. This means that we need to let others see what we see, hear what we hear, feel what we feel, and be transformed as we are by a loving embrace that causes us to keep coming back to the practice of lectio divina again and again.