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Center for Action and Contemplation
Encountering God through the Bible
Encountering God through the Bible

Reading with the Divine Presence

Friday, February 4, 2022

Lectio divina is a contemplative way of reading and relating to Scripture and other sacred writings. The medieval monk Guigo II (d. 1188) names the four steps of this foundational contemplative practice:  

One day when I was busy working with my hands I began to think about our spiritual work, and all at once four stages in spiritual exercise came into my mind: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. These make a ladder for monks by which they are lifted up from earth to heaven. It has few rungs, yet its length is immense and wonderful, for its lower end rests upon the earth, but its top pierces the clouds and touches heavenly secrets. [1]  

James Finley has taught extensively on lectio divina and Guigo II. In the most recent season of his podcast Turning to the Mystics, he describes the intention to be present to God that underlies all lectio divina practice:  

We sit in prayer, renewing our faith that we’re sitting there in God’s presence all about us and within us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. And we’ve come here with no other intention, but a kind rendezvous with God, as a way to turn to God to help us to deepen our experience of God’s presence in our life. That’s why we’re there. It’s a moment of intimacy, of devotional sincerity, of deepening this union with God in prayer. [2] 

Finley explains Guigo’s instructions for transformative reading:  

The power of God’s words works as leaven in the heart, awakening us to a personal experience of the presence of God that Scripture reveals. Read in this way, the Scriptures are one long love letter from God. Each verse tells the story of the love that perpetually calls us to itself. . . .   

The first rung of the ladder is that of reading the Scriptures as a way of seeking God. Then, in the midst of a quiet, sincere seeking, there is the graced event of coming upon words that embody that which we seek. As we read, we come upon something of God’s presence in that which we are reading. And in coming upon that which we seek, we descend into the depths of our awakened heart, from which there emerge thoughts, images, and connotations that simply flow out, without being seized or grasped hold of in any way. . . .  

Daily meditation practice goes best as we learn to stand firmly on the first rung of the ladder to heaven. By this I mean learning to be attentive to God’s voice reverberating in a poem, a novel, the refrains of a song, a report on the evening news, or a conversation overheard in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. In learning to stand firmly on the first rung of the ladder to heaven, we learn to be receptive and open to God, uttering us into existence as we wash out a pot, or fix a broken gate, or slip off our shoes at the end of the day. [3]  

[1] Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks: A Letter on the Contemplative Life, and Twelve Meditations, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1978), 81–82. 

[2] Adapted from James Finley with Kirsten OatesGuigo II: Dialogue One,” November 8, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 4 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021) podcast, MP3 audio.  

[3] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 82, 83, 87. 

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 17 & 20 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., 1963 (detail), Photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The Bible reveals the ongoing work of liberation by God and God’s people. It is a bridge to our understanding of God moving through the ordinariness of time and space. Just like this river: symbolizing the continuing story of the struggle for justice as it flows around and through this freedom fighter of the 1960s.

Story from Our Community:

I stayed stuck until I stopped using “me” as the starting point. The Bible says I should pray for the forgiveness I grant others (Matthew 6:12,14-15). Loving a friend is easy; loving my enemy is the measure (Matthew 5:43-48). The Kingdom is already here (Luke 17:20-22), and I can’t see it through my physical eyes (John 3:3). Putting these principles into practice was first humiliating and then humbling. I wanted others to be punished or corrected, but I wanted to get off the hook. “Forgiving” myself never transformed me. Giving forgiveness, and receiving it, has. 
—Christopher H.  

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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