Benedictine Hallmarks: Prayer


July 16, 2021
By: Father Benet Phillips, O.S.B.

In recent issues of Hilltop Headlines we have been looking at the importance of prayer in the life of the monk and by extension in the life of anyone who wants to be in relationship with God. We began by looking at the rhythm of prayer in common, and its importance in the life of a Benedictine community. This coming together is at the heart of Benedictine monasticism. Each monastery develops its own unique rhythm and style of prayer while maintaining common elements that are proper to the day, time and place.

We went on to look at the importance of private prayer under the rubric of “living in the presence of God.” In personal prayer, words, techniques, methods and even silence – perhaps most importantly silence, can be tools to get us into contact with the living God and which assists us to live in the presence of God no matter where we are or what we are doing.

Now we will turn our attention to a fundamental and ancient form of prayer for the monastic: lectio divina –holy or divine reading. In his Rule, Benedict is quite clear that certain times of the day are to be set aside for sacred reading. The style of reading is not so much for an academic understanding of text, but rather it is the invitation to enter into the text and let a word or phrase sink deep into our bones. Lectio Divina is a slow, rhythmic and intentional immersion into the Word of God (or other text) in the hope that the text can lead us to an encounter with the Divine. As you read, you become aware of a word or phrase and you stop, reread the word or phrase and begin to be aware of feelings that arise, what stirs your heart, or what sparks your imagination. The beauty of lectio is that it calls for us to slow down and to ponder the Word and to ponder what God might be saying to me in this moment. There is no page requirement, no time limits, just pondering the word, letting the word sink in and when the time right for you to move on and continue reading.

Traditionally lectio has four stages or moments. These may be linear moments but they do not have to be. The first moment is reading (lectio). In this moment, we simply read the text being mindful of words or phrases that “speak” to us. The next moment is meditation (meditatio). Repeat the word or phrase that has captured your attention. Stay with that word -- this may lead to the next moment: Prayer (oratio) speak to God about the word that has touched you. Share your thoughts and feelings with God. Ask God why this word is important to you. By entering into this sacred dialogue your open yourself to the possibility of entering the next moment which is contemplation (contemplatio). Focus here about God’s presence in your life. Perhaps you will be inspired to read the text again or to simply sit with the text. In this moment it is important to remember that you are in the presence of God. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of lectio – an abiding awareness that we are in God’s presence. We slow down and enter deeply into the heart of God as God enters more deeply into our hearts.In our last issue of Hilltop Headlines, we discussed the importance of prayer in common for not only the monk, but for any person who wants to enter into the mystery of God’s saving presence and action in his or her life.

Questions for Reflection

1. Have you ever tried to practice Lectio Divina? What was your experience like?
2. Which moment of lectio speaks most to you?
3. Which moment do you think is the most difficult? Why?
4. Do you have a favorite scripture passage? Why?