October 6, 2012

Lectio Divina of the Dao

Lectio Divina (Latin for "divine reading") is a traditional Catholic practice for studying scripture. It is normally performed in four steps, also called "four movements":

1. Lectio ("read")

2. Meditatio ("meditate")

3. Oratio ("pray")

4. Contemplatio ("contemplate")

Traditionally, these steps were performed in order. Lectio is simply reading the text, whichever text you wish. However, it is typically preceded by a period of calming the mind. This idea of calming the mind first comes from Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God."

The second step, Meditatio, is meditating upon what was just read. Ideally, it should first be read without assigning any particular interpretation to the text, and then during Meditatio, one waits for the Holy Spirit to "inspire" the meaning within you.

Oratio can take the form of any prayer that appeals to you, depending on your intent and the specific text you are working with. Note that the prayer done in this step must be spoken out loud.

Contemplatio is very similar to Oratio, but it is silent prayer. This is in order to better connect with the Holy Spirit and also involves listening. Think of Oratio as active prayer, while Contemplatio is passive prayer.

Although Lectio Divina is a Catholic practice, it can most definitely be used in non-Catholic settings and for non-Catholic texts. There is a very similar practice in Daoism. The obvious choice of texts would be the Dao De Jing, but many others could be used, as well.

In Daoism, the practice begins with 10-15 minutes of silent meditation, to still the mind. This is analogous to the preliminary step of Lectio. Then, the Lectio is the same, read part of the text. Normally, one would read a single line at a time.

Meditatio and Oratio are combined into a single step under the Daoist practice. At this stage, you would write out each Chinese character while repeatedly reciting the sound of each character as you write. In effect, this is sort of a mantra created from the sacred text. While doing this recitation, you meditate upon the myriad meanings of the character.

The final step, Contemplatio, is performed by translating the line you just finished writing into English. This translation does not have to be directly literal, instead it should reflect your view and perceptions. It will end up containing part of your essence - the passive prayer.

My teacher has recently started a Daoist study group where we are doing this very thing. When we finish, we will have, in effect, read the Dao De Jing in the original Chinese and created our own translation of it. I will post my progress as we go.