Pondering the Word of God is an indispensable element of Christian life. In antiquity, monastics devoted 3-4 hours each day to the Scriptures. The practice generally included committing text to memory. Knowing the psalter by heart was a prerequisite for common prayer, and some even memorized the entire New Testament.
“Knowing by heart” means far more than memorization. The goal is to understand the Scriptures in a way that necessarily changes one’s life. In the modern world, “study” means primarily the acquisition and ordering of information, together with the ability to think critically. By contrast, holy reading aims not so much at knowledge as at wisdom. It requires a slow, prayerful engagement with the text, always listening to the Holy Spirit whose desire is to conform us to Christ.
Your word is a lamp for my steps, and a light for my path.Ps 119 (118), 105
This way of reading is often referred to by its Latin name, lectio divina. We each spend at least 30 minutes each day, usually in the peaceful time after the night office, doing lectio. Some sisters use the readings for the day’s Mass while others read slowly through a single book of Scripture.
What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?Rule of St. Benedict 73.3
We add to our practice of reading during Lent, when each sister receives a book from the abbess and we gather together for an additional 30 minutes each day to do our Lenten reading.
Aids to lectio:
- Do it regularly (daily if possible)
- Choose in advance what text you will read.
- Stay with one text; avoid flipping pages.
- Begin with a prayer for the light of the Holy Spirit
- Read slowly
- If a phrase sparks a thought about your own life, or about God’s goodness, dialogue with that text in a prayerful way.
- Commit a few words to memory.
- Most of all: bring these words to mind during the course of the day: at fixed times, or whenever you have a spare moment.