"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
- Hebrews 4:12
Lectio divina, or "sacred reading," refers to the daily exposure to the Word of God, which is a crucial part of monastic life. It acts as a door to deeper and more habitual forms of prayer.
This "reading" is not the same as other reading - it is a spiritual practice in which we engage in a slow, leisurely pondering of the Scriptures, or perhaps of the writings of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, or of the Church's documents. The choice of text is important since it should provide for an encounter with the transforming presence of God. The purpose of this reading is not to gather information, or even to learn something new, but to discover how God is acting in my life now, and how I may be called to respond. Therefore, true lectio is existential and is at the service of living.
Meditatio, or "meditation," is the step that takes what one has read and stores it in the memory for continued processing. Our predecessors called this "rumination" because the purpose is to glean further nourishment from the text by repeatedly calling it to mind. Anything that has touched one's heart from reading, the liturgy, a conversation or an event, can be matter for chewing over as we go about our life. This can take the form of verbal repetition, or of recalling one's attention inward for a moment when circumstances allow for this. Over time, this practice keeps us close to the presence of God and teaches us to turn to him for help in all things.
Oratio, or "prayer," is a stage at which the reading and repetition of God's Word allows that Word to be internalized and to become our own, such that we experience a spontaneous upsurge of prayer from within us. All of a sudden the words of Scripture become the perfect vehicle for my heart's intent, and naturally flow from my mouth to speak to God. The Psalms in particular have been called a mirror of the soul, which means that they are able to reveal what is inside us. Just as I cannot know what my face looks like without a mirror, likewise on the spiritual level I cannot know myself except through the mirror of what is external to me - people, events, the liturgy, the Scriptures.
Contemplatio, or "contemplation," refers to a kind of prayer in which God's action is primary, and our own is characterized by receptivity. A person's attention is seized and held by the One she has been looking for for so long. It is less an experience than a state, which can become habitual, of being taken up into God's way of looking at the world. The phrase "pure prayer" has been used in the tradition for this kind of coming to rest in one's natural state of prayer in God.