Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.– Joyce Carol Oates
Of all the practices available to us on our spiritual awakening journeys, reading is perhaps one of the simplest and most accessible avenues to deeper self-insight.
Words and ideas are all around us: in the news, on the many websites we visit, in our social media streams, in advertisements, and in the odd book we purchase.
But not all reading is equal reading.
There is superficial, surface-level consumption of information – think of a bulbous-eyed frog that flicks out its tongue and ingests anything that comes its way.
And then there is deep-level, contemplative reading – picture an elegant koi fish that rises briefly to the surface then glides down into the depth of the pond.
The koi fish is what we’re aiming to imitate here!
Enter: lectio divina – an old tradition that I’m seeking to reimagine and reawaken for modern spiritual practitioners.
Table of contents
What is Lectio Divina?
Lectio Divina is a Latin word that quite literally translates to “divine reading.” Such a practice stems from the devotional practice of the Jewish people that was later adopted by Christian monastics in the early church.
While Lectio Divina is popular mostly amongst Catholics, I believe it is a practice – like meditation – that can enrich, nourish, empower, and inspire anyone regardless of their belief system (or lack thereof).
Four Stages of Lectio Divina
There are two ways to approach Lectio Divina. The first approach is intuitive and unstructured. In this method, we simply choose a book that we’re intuitively drawn to and use it as our source of meditation and contemplation.
The second approach is more structured and was outlined by a 12th century Carthusian monk by the name of Guigo II.
In a letter (known as The Ladder of Monks) he described and outlined a four-runged ladder to heaven defined by the following practices:
- Lectio (reading)
- Meditatio (meditation)
- Oratio (prayer)
- Contemplatio (contemplation)
We’ll explore both the intuitive and structured style of Lectio Divina next.
How to Practice Lectio Divina? (A Soul-Centered Approach)
The highest purpose of Lectio Divina, in my perspective, is to reconnect with your Soul or the Divine Source.
The beauty of Lectio Divina is that it’s a practice that enables you to slow down and participate in an active form of contemplation that gives the Soul space to be heard, felt, and listened to.
If you’d like a sample of what it sounds like, Mateo recorded a demonstration of meditative lectio divina reading of The Tao Te Ching:
Preliminary Step: Books and Lectio Divina
The book or text you select is a central part of your Lectio Divina practice.
In the words of Virginia Woolf:
Books are the mirrors of the soul.
And in the words of author Katrina Kenison:
Reading, reading actively, strengthens the soul.
Books play a sacred role in our evolution as a species: they’re not only at the heart of many religions, but they have also sparked the greatest realizations, inventions, and discoveries known to humanity.
Furthermore, books are there for us in times of need – they can shed light in dark places, guide us through Dark Nights of the Soul, and even play the role of nurturing companions and friends when all other support systems around us fail.
Therefore, choose a book that calls to your heart and speaks to your Soul. That could be a traditional wise text (like the Tao Te Ching which is one of my favorites), poetry, some other book that you want to integrate the lessons of, or even a fictional book or kids story.
Intuitive Lectio Divina
Intuitive Lectio Divina is mostly unstructured and focuses on reading as a form of active meditation, meaning that it may or may not include prayer or contemplation.
To practice intuitive Lectio Divina, here are some simple tips:
- Hold your chosen book in your hand, close your eyes if that feels comfortable, and mindfully connect with your in-breath and out-breath.
- When you’re grounded and centered, open intuitively to a page in the book or if you prefer, find a passage you’ve bookmarked or highlighted to read.
- As you read the quote, passage, or page/s, go slowly, savoring each word.
- A few meditative techniques you can use in your Divine Reading are to:
- Slowly read and focus on the space between each word, pausing every now and then.
- Linger on a word or phrase that calls to you, pause, and let it sink into the depths of your being.
- Focus simultaneously on your breath and the words that are entering your conscious awareness.
- Expand your focus not just on the words you’re reading, but also your body, the sounds around you, and the surrounding environment.
- Observe and meditatively take in the whole page, let your eyes drift across the words, and stop when they find a particular word or phrase that “jumps” out. Imagine breathing in this word or phrase into your deepest being and transforming your inner self.
- At any point during your Lectio Divina, you might like to say an intuitive prayer based on what you’ve read (internally or out loud). For example, if you’ve just read about the value of letting go, you might pray something like, “Dear Divine/Source/God, please help me to let go, trust, and surrender. May I learn deeply from this text and integrate its lessons. Thank you.”
- When you feel ready to finish your Lectio Divina, close your eyes, connect with your breath, mindfully close the book, and then offer gratitude to the Divine (if that resonates).
If you have any other ideas for intuitive Lectio Divina, I invite you to comment them below.
Structured Lectio Divina
Here are some tips for practising structured Lectio Divina:
1. Lectio (reading)
Choose a specific book and passage that speaks to you. Read the words slowly, meditatively, and carefully, taking as much time as you need.
2. Meditatio (meditation)
As you slowly read the text, mindfully notice which words or phrases “pull you in” or activate some kind of inner response in you (comfortable or uncomfortable). Let your conscious awareness meditate on these words by letting them sink in and noticing what happens in your mind and body. Meditating on the words might also involve simply letting them sit in your open awareness, without trying to understand them.
3. Oratio (prayer)
After meditating on the text and allowing it to penetrate further into your consciousness, you may like to say a spontaneous (or pre-existing) prayer to deepen your connection with, and ability to integrate, the words.
For instance, you might choose a pre-existing prayer such as the Hoʻoponopono prayer/chant of forgiveness and reconciliation: “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
Other prayers might be religious in nature (if you subscribe to a particular religion) or could be spontaneously created by you in the moment.
Why pray? Prayer helps to open the heart, invite in grace, and facilitate closer connection with the Divine.
Read: The Power of Prayer (& Why it’s So Undervalued) »
4. Contemplatio (contemplation)
Contemplation can be thought of as an active form of meditation – it helps us to access spiritual guidance that we may otherwise have not had access to.
When we contemplate something – in this case a passage from a book – we simultaneously open to it and ask reflective questions.
In the case of Lectio Divina, we might come across the word “synchronicity,” for example, and then allow that word to sink into our consciousness. We then contemplate that word in the sense that we ponder what relationship we have to synchronicity. Have we experienced any notable synchronicities lately? What might the Divine be communicating to us through such synchronicities? Etc.
Another example would be taking a book about Self-Love and using it in our Lectio Divina. Perhaps we stumble across the word “old soul” within the text, and for some reason that word stands out to us. We then contemplate the meaning of “old soul” by reflecting on our relationship with such words. Are we an old soul? Can a soul be old? How does being an old soul influence our life? And so on.
I would recommend having a journal nearby if you decide to incorporate contemplation into your Lectio Divina practice. Journaling is a wonderful way to record your discoveries and go deeper into them if you wish.
Lectio Divina and Ensoulment
Ensoulment, or the path and experience of reconnecting with and living from the Soul, is at the heart of the Lectio Divina practice.
In the words of writer Jeanette Winterson,
Reading is a rendezvous with your soul.
And Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, is simply a mindful and intentional way of invoking, evoking, and mirroring our own deepest knowing.
For those who struggle with traditional forms of meditation, Lectio Divina is a unique way of helping you to quiet the mind, open the heart, and be open to your Soul’s voice.
I hope this article has inspired you to refresh, enliven, and reawaken your relationship with reading.
You don’t need to be religious to practice Lectio Divina and you don’t even need to be that interested in reading to do it. Simply find a book – or perhaps even an article on your phone or computer – that speaks to you in a deep way, and use it as a basis for Divine Reading.
If you have any further ideas about, or even experience with, Lectio Divina, I’d love to hear it in the comments!
I love this!
I really needed this❣️
Beautiful how you fleshed this concept out. It’s something I’ve been learning about intuitively of late with me realizing that every spiritual text – whether the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishad, or just the works of enlightened folk is really just an attempt of the writer to put into words a direct spiritual experience they had.
And as anyone who’s had a spiritual experience can testify, words are poor translators of experiences which are ineffable and by nature, higher than words. So being able to start to read spiritual text looking for the spirit behind the words, consciously trying to bring to my own life the inner experience that the author is trying to communicate instead of the dogma in the words is something I just started working on. It’s such an enriching experience and I’m looking forward to integrating some of your suggestions here moving forward. Thanks for penning this !
Hi. I bought a book years ago pretty much just because I liked the cover art, I was drawn to the colors. Turned out the subject matter did not appeal to me at that time. However, one sentence, on a random page, grabbed me. That sentence was “No two people are brought together for the benefit of only one.” It has stuck with me all these years and is the answer to many questions about why any certain person came into my life. I’m looking forward to reading with this new idea.
My entry into Lectio Divina came about in reaction to an evangelical sort of youth. I just couldn’t swallow the fundamentalist anger and contradictions which I heard endlessly. So I started reading up on the world out there, focusing at first on what seemed out of whack, but increasingly I found myself encountering topics which spoke to my soul, not just my mind (which is how I started). But even the mind stuff contained elements which can best be described as Lectio Divina. Being wary of the danger of dogmatic recitation sorts of texts, mine became a mostly intuitive, unstructured sort of reading. Another word for this might be “Freelance” — based on my own mind and soul needs, feeling less prone to dogmatic religion and more attuned to spiritual inspiration. In psychotherapy this is also known as Bibliotherapy, and while the focus is perhaps more slanted towards psychological needs, there is often an overlap, as psychology can of course delve into the spiritual side, sometimes to a great extent. Fascinating topic, though — these days Lectio Divina forms my main ‘practice’. In fact, it probably is my oldest form of finding spirituality outside the rigid boxes I grew up… Read more »
What I love and benefit from are the interesting ideas and concepts that you write about that are new to me. It helps me go deeper in my practice and grow. Thank you for presenting information in an understandable format!
Ahh, Reading my favorite hobby, now I can try it again in a new focus!
Personally, I find writing too as a wonderful tool for inner work. I have started writing some fiction books these late two years, and while writing I discover more curious things about my hidden desires.
I mean, I write some pages, I reread them after a while, and get utterly bemused from some unconscious, sometimes unpleasant patterns that gets repeated in my writings.