Lectio divina for ‘inter church’ couples: What? So what? and Now what?
The term ‘lectio divina’ simply refers to the time-honoured method – practised by monastics since their beginning – of prayerfully reading the scriptures.
Whilst understanding scripture is important, lectio divina is more about learning to listen to what God says to us through scripture and to respond prayerfully to what we hear. It is a perfect form of prayer for married couples who come from different Christian denominations, as it uses something we share – the Bible – and enables us to hear God speaking to us individually and as a couple. It offers opportunity for us to pray together as a couple and so it strengthens our marriage. It is important to note that this is not Bible study. A good way to think about it is that the scripture passage like is one half of a telephone call. Our prayer experience in lectio divina is like the other half of that call. My half can be completely different from my spouse’s half and that is fine – after all, wouldn’t it be a bit freaky if our conversations with God were exactly the same? Not even identical twins are that alike!
To practice lectio divina, we set some time aside – maybe half an hour to begin with – and start by establishing external and internal peace. It could be that some music or a prayer focus such as a candle or icon might help. Then, asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin the first stage (lectio): one of us reads a passage of scripture aloud (usually the Gospel for the coming Sunday) and we simply try to listen to the passage as though we’re hearing it for the first time. This is so that we pay attention to what the passage is saying of itself. Without paying attention to scripture at this level, there is a danger that we simply manipulate the text to our own purposes, rather than letting God speak through his scripture.
The second stage of the process is meditatio: we listen to what the scripture passage is saying to each of us. This stage is deeply personal. This is not a search for something original or clever to say about the text, nor is it a quest for identifying the most objectively important message of the passage. It requires a listening of the heart: which word or phrase ‘jumps out’? There is no need at this stage to analyse the reasons for it (indeed there is a risk that if we do so, we may suppress a challenging or otherwise unexpected response to the scriptures), but simply acknowledge that it is there. We share that word or that phrase briefly, then we go further into our meditation and, through reading the passage again, we ask in prayer what that word or phrase means to us.
Having meditated attentively upon the Lord’s word, we move on to the third stage of lectio divina: oratio, or prayer. What do we say to the Lord in response to his word?
The fourth stage of the lectio divina structure is contemplatio. As we spend this time in wonder, we pray for the grace to see as God sees and for the wisdom to discern God’s will for us. David Foster compares this stage of contemplation – or ‘wonder’ – with lingering after sharing a meal with a friend: ‘We sit and take time to enjoy the food shared, and especially to enjoy the company in which we have shared the food and drink. It is a time for gratitude, humour and togetherness. So it is good not to hurry out of the presence of God we have savoured in our time of prayer… this is a time just to let God be God, and to let God be God for me. Our own self-offering to God will come naturally out of that.’
Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation are the four stages of lectio divina but of course, there is always actio, for as St Paul says, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5:14). The impact of our lectio divina in our lives – the caritas (or charity) it inspires – is the true completion of the process of lectio divina. In what way is God calling us to change as a result of our encounter with His word?
As an ‘interchurch’ couple, it might be all too easy to see the differences between us when it comes to faith, but the practice of lectio divina cuts through denominational differences and straight to the heart of Jesus’ rayer ‘Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you’ (Jn 17:21). Lectio divina is a form of prayer that you can practice at home as a couple that will not only strengthen your spiritual lives but your marriage also. In my own practice of lectio divina, I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and have received many unexpected graces, but don’t just take my word for it, though: Pope Benedict XVI has said of lectio divina,
‘if it is effectively promoted,
this practice will bring to the Church
– I am convinced of it –
a new spiritual springtime.’
It may be that you or your spouse have a lectio divina group in your parish – if so, go there and get started! When you’ve got the hang of the format, you can then use it at home too. If you don’t have a group available locally, then do have a go at home by simply using the Gospel for each Sunday. If you don’t have a Sunday Missal, the readings for Mass can be found at Universalis (http://universalis.com/mass.htm).
 David Foster, Reading with God (2005), p. 112
 Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation ‘Dei verbum’. 16th September 2005