The Word Among Us

Easter 2011 Issue

The Four Levels of Lectio

The Four Levels of Lectio

Lectio divina, the church’s most ancient way of reading Scripture, can be done both individually and in a group. Though not a rigid method, it traditionally involves four basic levels, or movements. In each one, the same Bible passage is read from a different angle. Here is how Pope Benedict describes the process in "Verbum Domini" (87):

1. Lectio, the first level, involves alert reading of the passage, with “a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas.”

2. Meditatio (meditation) prompts the question: What is this passage saying to us? “Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged.”

3. Oratio is the specific moment for prayer: “What do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us.”

4. Finally, in contemplatio (contemplation), “we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves: what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us?” The process is not concluded “until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.”

There’s no better way to learn about lectio divina than by giving it a try, says Fr. Craig Morrison. “It’s like the difference between hearing a mouthwatering description of an apple pie and actually enjoying a slice.” If there’s a good lectio group near you, drop in. For more guidance, he recommends Conversing with God in Scripture: A Contemporary Approach to Lectio Divina by Stephen J. Binz (The Word Among Us) and Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey (Liguori).