There's a simple way to pray with scripture that we, the Brooklyn staff, use together often to read collectively and individually as a group. It helps to center us in the Word before we start a meeting or begin planning for the week ahead. It's called in Latin, Lectio Divina, (Holy Reading). This method of prayer goes all the way back to the monastic tradition when there weren't enough Bibles, and not everyone knew how to read. So the monks gathered in chapel to listen to a member of their community read. Through this exercise, we are encouraged to listen to our hearts, individually and/or with a group, and invite the Spirit to lead us to new levels of awareness and understanding. It's an easy way to get to know scripture and integrate the Word into your daily rhythms and small group practices.
Below are the simple guidelines on practicing Lectio Divina:
1. Choose a Gospel or scripture passage about 10-15 verses in length. Try this one, for example from Ephesians 2: 1-10, or pull other daily passages from a reading plan on your Bible Gateway app or purchase a daily devotional book.
2. Go to a quiet space where you can take a moment to reflect in solitude that you are about to listen to the Word of God. Then read the passage out loud, listening to your own voice as you speak the words, allowing your ears to hear the words, and letting them wash over you. You may find it best to read it at a somewhat slower pace than normal. When you finish reading the passage, pause and consider if a word or phrase stood out to you or touched your heart. Is there a particular verse sticking in your memory? If so, let it stay and meditate on it. Sit in silence and savor its insight, feeling or understanding. Let the words roll around inside you and invite the Spirit to help you reveal a deeper meaning or shape.
3. Now read the passage aloud again. It will have a fuller meaning. Pause after and reflect on what just happened. What words sound different to you now? What do you hear or feel that you didn't notice before? If you want to dialogue with God, do it. Speak out loud to him or pray silently. Lift up any questions, confusion, desires or fears that arise in you as you consider these verses. Follow the prompting of your heart. This kind of reflective listening allows the Holy Spirit to deepen our awareness of God. It helps us to recognize the moments when He is taking initiative to speak to us and give in to those impulses and promptings. With time, you may begin to realize that the practice of Lectio Divina in your private spiritual time carries over into your daily life. You may start to recognize these moments when God is calling out to you more often and find it easier to allow Him to lead you in your daily rhythms.
Lectio Divina can also be effective as group prayer. Try it in your small group this summer. Explain the process first, so everyone can engage without hesitation.
1. Before you begin, assign a different person to read each time (3 people total). Have the group spread out across a space and prepare to meditate, so each person can create their own safe space for prayer. After Person 1 reads the passage to the group, allow an extended silence (3-4 minutes). It may be awkward at first, but try to take yourself mentally out of the space and retreat into the Word. Pray silently on the words you heard, inviting the Spirit into your inner life and guiding your heart. Savor what you've heard and notice any particular words or phrases that become a special focus of attention for you.
2. Now Person 2 can read the passage aloud. Group members can then share aloud the words or phrases that stuck with them. This should be done without discussion. Just let the words and phrases float in the silence with you as a group. Allow a moment of silence to linger before moving on.
3. Now Person 3 can read the passage aloud. Invite the group to be present in the room with each other again. This is the time when members can bring up an questions, confusion, desires or fears that arose while meditating. Allow each other to discuss freely and openly without judgement or comments from others. Listen to what resinated with fellow members and ask each other what this passage is prompting in you. What gift does this passage prompt you to ask from the Lord? What does it call you to do?
4. If there are unanswered questions or context that needs explaining, consult a Bible commentary and study deeper as a group. Look at different translations of the text (e.g., NIV, MSG, or The Message on a Bible app). Continue to be conscious of giving each other the space to wrestle, question, reflect and process freely without judgement or expectations from others. Remind yourself to stay present and reflective on your own instincts and keep the focus on what the Spirit is prompting in you.
5. Conclude the discussion with a group prayer. Read the Lord's prayer or another common prayer together. Here's a good post from Rachel Held Evans on structured prayer and praying together. Check out some of her resources at the end for further guidance.
For more on practicing different varieties of Lectio Divina, check out these websites: