Is Lectio Divina considered Centering Prayer?

Over the last couple of years I’ve from time to time practiced Lectio Divina as way of contemplating sacred scripture. This has helped me meditate on God’s written word. The way I was taught is you read a passage of scripture a couple of times; then try to kind of make a movie in your mind about what is going on in the passage and where you are in it; and then you meditate on how the scripture is speaking to you in whatever role you chose.

Quick example…I read the Wedding Feast at Canna and imagined I was the wine steward who was discovering he was about to run out of wine and very anxious about it. I visualized Mary asking me what was wrong and then directing me to her Son. I imagined being nervous about going to Him but then relieved by the kindness in His eyes. Anyway, the way that scripture spoke to me was that Christ was showing me that I didn’t need to be anxious because he would always be there for me. I could take my worries to Him.

The way I understand “centering prayer” is that you focus on a single word and try to completely empty your mind and then let God talk to you in the emptiness of thought. That always seemed a little far fetched (if not silly) to me.

Anyway, I don’t see any harm in from time to time reflecting on scripture using Lectio, but wanted your opinion as to whether I was doing something ill advised.

Yours in Christ

Dear S,

Centering prayer was devised by two American monks who were concerned that many Catholic young people were looking to eastern religions for meditation. So they attempted to offer a Christian version of such practice. The only problem is that it is not Christian. There is absolutely no evidence of emptying the mind in the history of Christian spirituality. For Zen Buddhists such emptiness leads to enlightenment.

Lectio Divina, on the other hand, comes from the monastic spirituality of the Catholic Church and has a long history. Its object, which goes far beyond “enlightenment,” is union with Jesus Christ. Your method of Lectio Divina is a bit of an accommodation for beginners. The traditional way of doing “Lectio” as the monks affectionately call it, is simply to let the passage speak to them. There is no attempt to make a movie in one’s mind. (But if this works for people, there is nothing wrong with doing it.) The object is to let God speak to us as He chooses. Sometimes this means going over the passage many times. The one thing that is most important is that the person NOT try to make something happen, allowing the Lord to speak when and how He chooses. How we bring ourselves to Lectio Divina is MOST important. Our inner preparation is almost as important as the actual reading. It is most important to let go and not try to accomplish anything. This can be the most difficult part of Lectio for us in our culture.

Today, despite that fact that it is bogus, Centering Prayer is synonymous with contemplative prayer for countless Catholics and Anglicans. This includes clergy as well. It is most unfortunate that those two monks chose to borrow from non-Christian religions when they had at their finger-tips the tried and true Lectio Divina from their own tradition.

For more, see:

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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