Spiritual Practices: Praying with Scripture

Spiritual Practices: Praying with Scripture



Bible Reading and Lectio Divina

Spiritual practices are those practices that help us cultivate awareness and develop a stronger connection to God, ourselves, the earth and others.  What better way to do this than praying with scripture!

Lectio divina was first used in the fourth century as a way of fostering in-depth appreciation of the scriptures. The method described below is one of many variations currently practiced. It can be done alone, or in a group (4 to 8 people is a good size). The two Latin words lectio divina mean “sacred reading,” and the method can be a remarkable way of experiencing passages from the Bible. There are four steps with each as a way to approach the Bible by different modes of perception and understanding—sensing, thinking, feeling and intuition.

Choosing a Bible Passage

What Bible passage should you use?  If you are just beginning, I would use a parable or healing story from one of the gospel; 5-15 verses is a good length.  These will almost always give you some descriptive elements that will be helpful as you learn the method.  You might like to use the gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday, for example.  Once you are familiar with the method, you can broaden the type of passage you use.

Steps of Lectio Divina

If you are leading a group in this process you should experience (practice) it yourself several times prior to leading the group.  In a group setting, explain the process first.

  • Read aloud the questions in each step.
  • Read aloud the passage.
  • Sit in silence.
  • Repeat until you are finished.

It’s important to explain to a group that there is no conversation between the steps! You might also tell them how much silence there will be between steps. If this is a new experience for people, knowing the amount of silence will alleviate anxiety.  Note that the passage is read aloud prior to each step. In a group setting, ask different people to read each time.  It’s nice to alternate men and women’s voices if you can.

1. Lectio – sensing: Read the passage carefully, getting the sequence and detail without thinking too much about the meaning. Imagine the time of day, season of the year, smells of the land, sounds of the countryside, the human touches—all the elements that would make this scene (either the one described in the passage, or the one that existed when the passage was being written) real to you. Transport yourself into the setting using your imagination.

Sit in silence for 3-5 minutes.

2. Meditatio – thinking: Read the same scripture again. Why do you think there a record of this particular event or saying? What is the significance of this passage in the larger scheme of things? What does this piece mean? Does it significantly add to, or alter, the view of God reflected in the rest of the Bible? How does it affect an understanding of God? Of conduct? How does it apply to your life? Do you see yourself in any of the characters (if there are any) in the passage?

Sit in silence for 3-5 minutes.

3. Oratio – feeling: Allow your feelings to surface as you read the passage a third time. Do you feel happy, sad, angry, confused, hurt, guilty, bored? Talk this through with God. Tell God what you feel about what you have read, about how it affects you personally. Comment in your prayer on anything in the passage that you have read.

Sit in silence for 3-5 minutes.

4. Contemplatio – intuition: Read the scripture a last time. Sit quietly, breathe deeply and regularly, close your eyes and rest in the presence of God. As you quiet your inner self, listen in your heart. Most of us find a lot of noise inside. Note those thoughts and let them float downstream. Make it your gentle intent to remain open and listen within. When you are ready, open your eyes, and express your gratitude to God for this experience with the scriptures.

Sit in silence for 3-5 minutes.

Going Forward

You are now finished.  If you are alone, I encourage you to journal about this scripture. If you are in a group setting you can invite participants to share thoughts or feelings.  It is not necessary that they do so, but if they do receive these gratefully and graciously.  Don’t analyze.  This isn’t group therapy!

As with all methods of contemplative prayer, benefits come over time and are usually outside of the study/contemplation time itself.  For example, you might be talking with a friend and remember an insight you had from one of these prayer times.  It could be an insight about yourself or perhaps even something you want to share with your friend.  Remember, spiritual practices are methods that help us increase our awareness of God’s goodness all around us.


Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.


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