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Lectio Divina


by Fr. Casey Bailey


The life of monks and nuns of the Benedictine family is often summarized by the brief phrase “ora et labora,” prayer and work. But it seems to me that this “motto” leaves something crucial out of our lifestyle. What more accurately captures our monastic commitment is “lectio, et ora, et labora.” This “lectio”, reading, is most often accompanied in the Latin west with the adjective “divina,” the very adjective itself surely pointing to the supreme importance of this spiritual practice in the lives of contemplative monks and nuns. So what exactly is this divine reading, and why is it so central to the monastic ascesis and witness?

“Lectio Divina

is paying attention

to the Word of God

revealed to us

in Sacred Scripture”

To put the matter simply, lectio divina, in the first instance, is paying attention to the Word of God revealed to us in Sacred Scripture. This attention is more fundamentally a matter of the heart than of the head. This is to say that our reading of God’s Word from the heart is seeing Scripture as God’s love letter to humanity in general, and to each one of us individually. Now, reading a love letter addressed to you invites a particular quality of attention To analyze a love letter with the academic expertise of any particular discipline is surely to miss the real point of the letter. The whole point

of a love letter is to convey the love of the author to the recipient(s), is it not? This can only be received with the attention of the heart.

Therefore, to really engage in lectio divina is to seek to accept God’s infinite love for us as He conveys it to us through His Scriptures. This is not to say that the various disciplines of scriptural exegesis are not to be respected and learned from. But it is to say that they are not, in themselves, lectio divina. The ultimate point of being a contemplative monk or nun specifically, and of being a Christian generally, is to be fully conformed to the truth of God’s love. For the monastic, lectio divina is a central, daily, yes hourly, discipline in the ongoing primary mystery of human life: becoming one with the one love.

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