In the prayer traditions of the West, there is an approach to prayer that echoes the scripture of the need to love God with all of "our heart, our mind, our body and our soul." This is the tradition of Lectio Divina, which means "divine reading," reading with God. Lectio Divina incorporates all four levels of the psyche, therefore four unique perspectives, revealing the four senses of a sacred text. The monks and nuns as well used this approach to their engagement with creation, itself! Each level opens up a new horizon of appreciation and presents a unique way of approaching the material. These four levels of appreciation are the literal, the thoughtful or reflective, the heartfelt or responsive, and the soulful or restful, resting in God's Presence. With literal, we are allowed to experience the facts of the story through the lens of the imagination. Through image we are able to "taste and see," to be present imaginally to the events described. When we engage in thoughtful reflection, the meaning of the story begins to reveal itself. We are asked to reflectively penetrate to the deeper and richer levels of understanding that the story reveals. As we move to the level of the heartfelt, a moral response to the story emerges. The story asks us the important question: now, that you've understood, what are you going to do to respond faithfully? The final level, the soulful or spiritual opens a well of infinite value that holds the power to heal and transform, to reveal soul. It is here that we consent to God's Presence and Action in our lives, infusing a new quality of wisdom and compassion. Only as we move into the story in all four dimensions (the literal, thoughtful, heartfelt, and spiritual) will we unveil the full measure of the gifts of the sacred text. In reality, our quest in reading sacred texts is a never-ending path to deeper and more profound perspectives. To remain on the surface of a literal interpretation of a sacred text is to miss the life-transforming meanings and values contained in sacred literature.
Lectio Divina is an ancient practice from the Christian Contemplative Heritage. Lectio Divina was a regular practice in monasteries by the time of St. Benedict in the 6th century. The classical practice of Lectio Divina can be divided into two forms: monastic and scholastic. The scholastic form was developed in the Middle Ages and divides the process of Lectio Divina into four consecutive steps: reading, reflecting, responding and resting. The monastic form of Lectio Divina is a more ancient method in which reading, reflecting, responding and resting are experienced as moments rather than steps in a process. In this form, the interaction among the moments is dynamic and the movement through the moments follows the spontaneous prompting of the Holy Spirit. So that, at one moment we may be reading and the next moment we may fall into the depths of intimate communion with God, resting in that Presence. To allow for this spontaneity, Lectio Divina was originally practiced in private.
The current resurgence of Lectio Divina owes much to the reformations of Vatican II and the revival of the contemplative dimension of Christianity. Today, Lectio Divina is practiced in monasteries and by laypeople around the world. New practices have also been inspired by the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, such as praying the scriptures in common, which uses the scholastic form of Lectio Divina for a group experience of praying the scriptures. I recommend Nan Merrill's Praying the Psalms, and Thelma Hall's Too Deep For Words in this regard. Though the method of Lectio Divina has taken slightly different forms throughout the centuries, the purpose has remained the same: to enter into relationship with God and cultivate the gifts of contemplation, God's unconditional love, Divine Joy and an Abiding Sense of Eternal Peace.