Contrary to the quite popular belief, throughout history Catholics were never forbidden to read the Scriptures, and the last century provided enormous resources for biblical reading and study. While understanding and exegesis are very important, what people sometimes call "devotional reading of the Bible" doesn't really hit their heart with a full force, as it often stays on the level of 'inspirational' but doesn't elevate to encountering God. We do have a great heritage in that area, since from the very beginning the Church Fathers, Desert Fathers and monastic tradition were deeply immersed in praying the Bible, often daily, or several times a day, until the Word was alive and its fruits would spring from the hearts of its readers.
One of the forms of eating the scroll was Lectio Divina, first described by Guigo II, the Carthusian monk, who surely learned it from his predecessors. His simple idea is what is missing in many people's practice of reading and praying the Bible, since the main point of why God has left us His Word is to make it alive again through engaging our whole beings in its letters. Guigo, knowing how simple measures stick to memory, described the Divine Reading in four steps: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio, which is Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation, providing a sure way of going from the external to internal, from reading for knowledge and information to receiving God's Word charged with His actual presence into our lives and making our hearts gardens ready for all seasons of life.
When the practice of Lectio Divina in a communal setting is done for years, the results are enormous. Among these are: ongoing personal conversion, increased awareness of the fear of God and His love, real bonding in the Spirit, and breakthroughs in every aspect of life (not to be confused with annihilating suffering). I was on IHOP-KC staff, on and off, for six years. One of the aspects of why I was drawn to move and stay at the Mission's Base was its principal similarity to the "HalleluJah" Catholic Community that I founded with several friends in my early 20's in Poland: frequent and deep individual and communal prayer, from which authentic conversion and all ministry flowed. Since then, wherever I visit any Christian community, my first question is always about their history and current personal and communal prayer life, as this is the measurement of a Christian foundation.
In our early days, our small leadership team of my Polish community decided that prayer would always be the foundation and non-negotiable core at the base of all we did. We prayed daily at 6 a.m. for years, in the midst of our family, work, and school responsibilities. We also had one evening prayer meeting a week, retreats, Masses, services, weekly small groups, very frequent leadership meetings, street and parish evangelization, ministry to the poor, weekly all night prayer meetings, etc. with not even one paid staff for a long time, and almost zero donations. What was keeping us going was our passion for Jesus and everything that flowed from that relationship with Him. Intense love required intense response. Intense needs required intense dedication. Our hearts would not be able to burn without that sacred place that we cherished from the very beginning: prayer. All discernment came through prayer and fasting, until we agreed on where to stand. It was a unique place of true communion (koinonia - unity of hearts) which I had not seen since leaving to become a missionary to Russia, working with different non-Catholic groups for years. After seeing IHOP-KC's prayer room, I recognized the same principles, at least in the approach to prayer and allowing God to woo human hearts to the place where He dwells and where peace and harmony strip off all fear and resentment, boredom and hurt.
One of the aspects that felt familiar was the structure of prayers and how they were conducted. A prayer leader and a worship leader alternately led the congregation into the presence of God. This was the exact way we developed our prayer meetings years before: praying the Bible combined with singing prayers. It was, in reality, Lectio Divina at its best.
From my personal experience, teaching Lectio Divina is not obscure any longer and more and more people are familiar with the structure and the approach. However, I would suggest that there is a big different between knowing how to do the steps and fruitfully experiencing Lectio Divina as prayer. The aim for Lectio Divina is having contact, one on one time, with God. Contemplation is the peak we are climbing, and the whole process should lead there, beyond the human, to touch the Divine. After all, it's Divine Reading, not Human Reading.
I've seen that often Lectio Divina will not progress past the slow reading of and meditation on the passage. And in group practice, meditation is exchanged for a mini-exegesis, preaching, or reflection. Some told me that if they go beyond that point and try to pray the Scriptural passage or phrase, and include their meditative fruits, they will end mostly in vocal or mental petitioning, because the prayers of adoration, blessing, or intercession are like climbing the Himalayas for us. In winter. When we come to the contemplative part, people stay cautious so as to not accidentally practice any kind of Buddhist or centering prayer or transcendental meditation techniques, because they have little idea of what contemplation means. If one mentions St. Teresa of Avila's prayer of quiet or infused recollection, they would have not the faintest hint of what those things mean. Yes, we can not systemize meetings with God but we can train our spirit to deal with distractions, to become more attentive, to conquer our disordered passions, to enter into the stillness where God's voice resounds, to learn how to say FIAT in the midst of crisis or uncertainty - and Lectio Divina is a way to enter into this realm of dialoguing with God who offers Himself all the time and is always ready to encounter us.
If you've visited IHOP-KC's Prayer Room or if you've had a chance to watch the 24/7 streaming, you will recognize that some two hour prayer sets are concentrating more on intercession and some are called Worship With the Word. The second one seems almost a direct and modern version of Lectio Divina done right, a way that will revolutionize one's prayer life. Here is what Guigo says about Lectio Divina and what you will find in the Worship With the Word sets:
If you watch any of these kinds of sets, you will recognize a certain pattern where the worship team has a time of entering into God's presence (all sing known songs), followed by introducing a Scripture passage (read out loud by a prayer leader), and singers picking up a certain phrase and singing spontaneously around that phrase for a while, until it sinks deeper. After few minutes, you will hear one of the singers creating a spontaneous chorus that the whole congregation can repeat together several times as a response to the Scripture read and then a time of communal contemplative moments happen: all sing, or instruments play, or someone brings forth an encouraging word in a song and then the cycle of reading starts anew, progressing through the given passage of the text. At the base of this kind of prayer is a desire to engage with the Word that is alive and offering our human fragility into the process: we prepare, educate ourselves and dive deep into the Word and then respond spontaneously whenever He moves within us. There is no pressure or hype in trying to create a spontaneous reaction, there is only waiting for Gods grace to stir the Word in our midst. Here's a visual help:
If you are planning to come to the Onething2015 Catholic Ecumenical Track this Dec. 28 -31, you will be able to sing Lectio Divina and pray as a God's Lover in the Prayer Room which will be opened from 6am till midnight daily, parallel with the conference's events.