SummaryFr Mark Wenzinger introduces us to the basic idea and practice of ‘lectio divina’, the ancient practice of reading Scripture aloud. Start off small!
Reading as contemporary people know it and practice it tends to become a wholly silent affair.
Reading also tends to be something that is done as speedily as possible, such that it tends to become a means to some other end of ours, rather than being an end in itself.
Of course, people do still read for pleasure, but even when this still happens, the desire is to finish the book, not to savor it.
Finishing a book in this way is also the killing of the book, rendering it something that we can discard in order to move onto the finishing (off!) of something else.
Reading Slowly, Aloud
It is therefore important for us to recognize and to put into practice the excellence of reading slowly, doing so simply for the pleasure/excellence of reading as an end in itself. Integral to such a practice of reading is the reading of a text aloud to oneself, even if it is necessary to read aloud in a low voice.
Truly worthy books are not merchandise to be finished off, but are rather treasures that are to be loved and venerated. Reading aloud and thus reading slowly greatly contributes to the development of such an attitude.
Such is uniquely the case when it comes to Sacred Scripture and our reading of the same.
The manner of reading just mentioned above is precisely how the Fathers and Doctors of the Church read Scripture: slowly, aloud to themselves, doing so as an end in itself that they experienced as more pleasurable than consuming the best of bodily meals.
This ancient Christian manner of reading Scripture is called lectio divina (divine reading).
How to Begin?
How does one begin the practice of lectio divina? By reading a selected text—preferably of Sacred Scripture itself—slowly and aloud to oneself. The goal is not to read as much as one can in the time allotted. The goal is rather to taste and savor as deeply as one can small “bites” of the Word of God for as long as possible.
In reading the sacred text in this way, one moves quite naturally back and forth from vocal prayer and silent prayer, in which one savors the text at the levels both of the intellect and of the will.
The first two psalms of the Book of Psalms can provide us with a practical and fruitful example both of what lectio divina is and of the fruit that it can yield.
Psalm 1 is a Torah psalm, and psalm 2 is a Messiah psalm. The psalms are sacred songs that recapitulate the experience of all mankind in relation to God, Who has made covenant with us by the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in whose divine Person, united forever to His Sacred Humanity now risen from the dead, and in which both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 express their fulfillment.
Psalm 1: The Blessedness of Man
Psalm 1 speaks of the blessedness of the Man whose delight is in the Torah (the revelation, the instruction given to man by God) of the Lord and who murmurs this Torah to himself all day long. In truth, it is Jesus Himself who is the fulfillment of this psalm.
In his Sacred Humanity, while He lived among us, Jesus was praying to the Father continually and spontaneously in the Holy Spirit in a way that is rooted in the psalms and indeed in the entirety of the sacred texts of His People, which he had prayerfully made His own from His youth.
As we pray Psalm 1, we realize that His prayerful murmuring of the sacred text is like the sound of living water, the moving water of the sacramental stream of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.
Indeed, in praying this psalm, we come to realize that Jesus is in Person both the Blessed Man and the divine Torah itself, the fullness of God’s Revelation.
We are thus moved by the Holy Spirit to adore and praise and thank the God who has revealed Himself to us, and we ask for grace to respond lovingly to His invitation to enter into deeper union with Him through Christ.
Psalm 2: Jesus, the Incarnate Messiah
Jesus is also the fulfillment of Psalm 2, which speaks of the intimate relationship between the Father and His Eternal Son, Who is also the incarnate messiah in whom all God the Father’s promises are fulfilled.
Praying Psalms 1 and 2, we come to realize that in Jesus, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Messiah converge in a wonderful and previously unforeseen way by means of the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, Jesus, who became man without ceasing to be God.
In praying Psalms 1 and 2 in this way, our intellects are illumined and our wills are moved with greater love for God. The Holy Spirit Himself is the one who illumines our intellect and moves us to love the Father through the Son.
In praying psalms 1 and 2, we thus realize that it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to recognize in Jesus the unity of the Blessed Man and God’s Self-Revelation, the unity of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Messiah.
By praying the psalms, then, we allow the Holy Spirit to introduce us into the eternal union of the Father and the Son, from which flows our adoration and praise of God, our thanksgiving to God, our supplication of God, and our repentance.
Such realizations as these are the fruit of lectio divina, in which we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit, in whom we have access through the Son to the very depths of the Father, our life-giving Origin and our gracious End.
Father Mark Wenzinger, O. S.B., Ph.D.
Assistant Chaplain, Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia