An Ancient Form of Prayer for Lent

By Prioress Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB

Lord, impart to us the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it. St. Hilary of Poiters

We read in the gospels of occasions when Jesus withdrew from others in order to pray in solitude. One episode was when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. When tempted by the devil to satisfy his hunger, Jesus replied, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Lent provides an opportunity for us to grow in our life of prayer and holy reading—to concentrate on the word of God in Scripture. Primary among the monastic approaches to God is lectio divina (in which you meditatively read a few lines of scripture several times, taking time for quiet in between each reading). It is not only a technique of prayer, but a guide to living. It is a way of listening with the ear of the heart and of finding God.

The longest section in the Rule of Benedict dealing with lectio divina occurs in the context of Lent. Benedict urges his followers to increase the time allocated for holy reading so that we might become more attentive to the power of grace. We experience the intimacy of prayer as we acknowledge our dependence upon God and express our trust in God’s providential care for us.

Words from scripture also promote closer scrutiny of God’s word.  Matthew 13:35 quotes Jesus saying to the crowds “I will speak to you in parables and reveal to you things hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Ps. 78:2) What hidden things might we learn if we spent time with the word of God in Scripture?  And what is it that we might discover if we paid attention to 1 John 2:21, “It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but rather because you know it already.”

Is not this what lectio divina is all about?  It is a time to notice and discover the message and action of God in our lives. Our openness to God in lectio divina creates a relationship with the God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. It is a time we listen more attentively to the call that God extends to us at this point in our lives.

Lectio divina is also a means by which divine revelation enters this world to save us. We become receivers of grace with the capacity of passing on to others what we ourselves receive. When we practice lectio divina, we read and pray in union with the whole people of God and so our lectio is a source of energy for the whole Church.

During this season of Lent, try this ancient form of prayer designed to bring us closer to the Divine. Open your Bible and read 2 or 3 lines slowly. After the 1st reading, be silent and let the words simply rest in you. After the 2nd reading, respond to the words. What are they saying to you? After the 3rd reading, let yourself rest in the words. May your exercise of lectio divina be a source of inspiration and preparation for the celebration of the paschal mystery.

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