How to pray the Scriptures

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By Hal Green

“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will open to you in contemplation.” St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).

Hal Green

The Scriptures are meant to be prayed as well as read. The process of praying the Scrip­tures (Lectio Divina) is time-honored, and has been practiced continuously for more than 15 centuries in monastic communities. It consists of four essential cyclical steps or stages, which you may go back through repeatedly during a prayer session.

The process:

1. Reading: Slowly read a brief passage. Truly listen and become fully present to the text. What does the text say? Read the text a few times, letting the words sink in.
2. Meditation: Reflect, ruminate on the text. What words especially grab you? What does the text say to you, mean to you right now?
3. Prayer: React, pray. What do you want to say to God? This stage includes your waiting for God’s sensed presence, and hopefully, response.
4. Contemplation: This begins when you sense God drawing near, however subtle. It might be a calming assurance of God’s presence, or a peace-bringing resting in God’s Spirit. To release yourself into contemplation, you must consent to God’s presence and action within you.

To better understand this fourfold process of praying the Scriptures, I like the analogy of ordering food at a restaurant. First, you have to be hungry for food — just as you must have a desire for God. So how do you order off a menu? Through these four simple steps:

1. Reading: you first have to read what is on the menu. What is available?
2. Meditation: When you find something of interest, you will begin to ruminate on how it might taste and whether that is what you most want at that moment.
3. Prayer: You have to tell a wait person what you want to order.
4. Contemplation: This commences when the food arrives and you begin to eat.

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This really comes down to four questions you need to ask in order to pray a particular biblical passage:

1. What does the text say?
2. What does it say to me?
3. What do I want to say to God?
4. What does God want to say to me?

As a much-needed example today, pray Jesus’ compassionate appeal in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (NRSV).

(Contact Hal Green, Ph.D., at drhalgreen@gmail.com.)


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