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Lectio Divina

& Centering Prayer




    Our planet is waking up, the struggle for liberation is on, and a new global culture is emerging which yearns to be free from the enslaving political, ideological and religious constraints of the past. In Christ there is power, wisdom and grace to make the dream a reality. But centuries of religious repression and dogmatism have blinded many people to the liberating power of Christ. They are turning to non-Christian religions, the new age movement, and secular psychology for guidance.

    Granted, the Church does not have a monopoly on wisdom, and there is useful knowledge to discover outside of her walls. But we who serve as shepherds to the flock have a responsibility to provide adequate spiritual direction for those who seek it. Our failure to do so has caused large numbers of our brothers and sisters in Christ to turn away from the Church. Spiritual seekers today are not content with moving church services and the preachers’ intellectual knowledge “about” God. They want to know God personally by direct experience. Divine union is the root of true liberation, and if the Church does not point the way, others will attempt to fill the gap drawing many sincere believers away from the Christian Tradition. To heal the breach and respond to the needs of modern seekers, we must revive the Christian contemplative tradition, offering it as a Christ-centered mysticism for all who seek direct communion with God.

    Contemplative prayer is simply resting in God, silently absorbed in the Divine Presence, beyond thoughts, words, and images. Immersed in Divine Love, we forget ourselves, and a process of interior transformation begins, which leads, if we consent, to an abiding state of divine union. In this process, a total restructuring of consciousness occurs. We come to recognize and experience God within us, as the very ground of our being, and simultaneously, we begin to see God everywhere, in, through and beyond all that exists. We even discover God’s presence in the people we have felt most alienated from, and we find the ability to love and to serve them. Thus, contemplative prayer works to bring healing to a world torn by prejudice, hatred, and greed.

    Contemplative prayer is a gift of God, a spontaneous unfolding of the grace of Christ within us, and no tech­nique can produce it. But there are things we can do to prepare ourselves for the gift, instead of waiting for God to do it all. For instance, certain Eastern methods can help lay the groundwork for contemplation by calming the mind and harmonizing the body with the spir­it (a possibility long ignored in the West). Some Eastern practices can also help us channel and integrate the spiritual energy released in contemplation. But Eastern traditions generally make the presumption that the proper spiritual technique will methodically and systematically produce Divine Union. In the Christian Tradition we understand and affirm boldly that communion with God is purely a gift of grace, by invitation only.

    So while some Eastern methods and meditative practices are not harmful and may even be helpful, true contemplation is the fruit of our relationship with Christ, and cultivating that relationship must be our primary focus. One of the best ways to do this is the practice of lectio divina, literally “divine reading,” a way of prayer used by both monks and lay people in the first Christian cen­turies and the core of the Benedictine Prayer Tradition to this day. Lectio divina has four stages. It begins with 1) reading or listening a passage of Scripture (Latin: “lectio”), followed by 2) reflection or “meditation” on the text (Latin: “meditatio”), leading to 3) the spontaneous prayer of the heart as we communicate with God about what moved us during our reading and meditation (Latin: “oratio”), and finally to 4) interior silence also known as Contemplation or simply resting in the presence of God (Latin: “contemplatio”).

    Initially, viewed as the normal experience of anyone practicing lectio, by the sixteenth century, contemplation came to be regarded as something for only extraordinary souls, and the contemplative tradition was suppressed. This persisted well into the twentieth century, when widespread interest in Eastern meditation and other forms of mysticism sparked a contemplative renewal in the Church. From this emerged “Centering Prayer,” a contemporary presentation of an ancient method used by the Desert Fathers to move from the first three phases of lectio to the final stage of resting in God. It is especially helpful for Western people whose tendency to be too analytical makes it difficult to move from reflection to spontaneous prayer, and from spontaneous prayer to interior silence.


1. Choose a sacred word of one or two syllables which symbolizes your intention to open and to surrender to the presence of God within. (The word could be Jesus, Yahweh, Abba, Spirit, Peace, Silence, etc.).

    2. Sit comfortably, with eyes closed. Silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to the pres­ence and action of God within. (You need not repeat it continually; it may fade out, become vague or disappear).

3.   If you are caught up in any thought, feeling or perception, very gently release it, and return to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer time, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes, before resuming activity.

    You will probably be aware of a con­tinual stream of thoughts and images. This is not an obstacle to centering prayer. Make no attempt to repress them. Just keep letting them go, and rest in the presence of God, by returning ever so gently to the sacred word.

    Before you decide if centering prayer is working for you, commit yourself to do it for at least twenty minutes, twice a day, for a month. Contemplative grace is very subtle, and you may not perceive what is happening during the time of prayer. So do not measure it by the experiences you have in prayer, but by the fruit it bears in your life, the fruit of peace which comes from yielding daily to God’s presence at the deepest core of your being.

    If we balance the practice of Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer with faith­ful participation in the liturgy and Sacraments of the Church, and a life of loving service to others, we will be transformed and become healers of the Church and of the world.


Hall, Thelma. Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).

Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart (Continuum). The most excellent book I know of on centering prayer!

Keating, Thomas. Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation (Continuum).

      Everything by Thomas Keating is highly recommended!



Copyright © 2003 Maclin R. Milner, Jr.

All Rights Reserved



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