Winter Retreat Day 1: Lectio Divina

white book page with lighted candle

When starting anything from scratch, it helps to start at the beginning. Since our retreat involves a lot of reading, on day one we address the topic of how to read – or how to get the most out of spiritually focussed reading. So: before you read any further light a candle or a stick of incense, grab a notebook and pen, settle into a comfortable, peaceful seat, take a few deep breaths and smile.

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina means “divine reading” in Latin, and refers to a process of reading religious texts that brings the words from the page, through our intellect, and into our hearts. It is a profoundly reflective process that may be applied effectively to any spiritual reading, allowing your inner wisdom to discern the deeper meanings.

Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist Monk, describes the process of Lectio Divina beautifully in his book Open Mind, Open Heart. According to Fr. Keating, there are four stages:

  1. Lectio (reading) the first, fresh reading, with an open mind
  2. Meditatio (reflection) a second, slower reading, savoring the words or phrases that light up for you
  3. Oratio (respond) journaling is a powerful way to engage with new material, ask questions, jot down in your own words what you understand
  4. Contemplatio (rest) close the book and just rest in easy, open awareness

For a deeper understanding, read this helpful Beginner’s Guide to Lectio Divina

Photo by fatemah khaled on

You don’t have to be Christian to find some value in this pedagogy, and one needn’t limit this contemplative study to codified Scripture. So today I invite you to try these four stages of Lectio Divina with our reading from Professor Lauren Frederick Pfister, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University.

While the following excerpt is actually from a movie review that he published in Chinese Cross Currents for Chen Kaige’s Movie, Together – Professor Pfister’s observations on how (and why) to build human relationships from scratch are pithy and worth reading – and re-reading.

“Sensing Love’s Tensions and Transformation: Another Look at Spiritual Depths in Chen Kaige’s Movie, Together

“Perhaps we need to learn again that being cultured is not merely a matter of being educated, or attaining excellence in a particular role, or even exploring with insight our inherited pasts. Rather, it is the art of living that enables us to face and overcome the tensions that life’s times and spaces create within us. When we do so, new horizons become visible within the landscape of our personal life and relationships.

“…These four realms – inner and outer, future and past – frame the vital forces of cultural spaces and human temporality in which all human lives are tested, moulded, broken, and remade.

“How can people endure such tensions? By mutually reinforcing committed care that expresses itself in humility and honesty, in charity and sacrifice. So, from a deeper spiritual perspective, those who may live together in the same apartment or neighborhood may not be living together at all: they are dis-temporaries, out of sync with each other’s movements, unable to understand or sympathise, and so unable to attain true contemporaneity….

“…vital human relationships are cultivated achievements and do not come “naturally”, especially within the chaotic work-aholism of the want-to-get-rich-and-famous crowd. Coming together, then, is also not merely a spontaneous given, for there are mistakes, errors, sadnesses, and frustrations that test every heart and relationship, and need humble repentance, charitable renewal, and wise enlightenment.

“…Some gifts come in response to the greatest of sacrifices, the revealing of secrets that frame life even when they are left inarticulate, unaddressed, repressed or blanketed by troubled emotions. 

“It is mutually affirmed, committed care that vitalises life, and it can be accompanied by all things noble, beautiful, and virtuous. But when people fail to live in committed care, they must take the path that leads them humbly and self-consciously back to the source of their love. Through the transformation that true love makes possible, there is hope of reordering one’s loves and rediscovering even those loves that have been previously lost or overshadowed by less worthy pursuits…

“…a selfless sacrifice expressed in committed care for another raises the heightened awareness of the one who is loved to a profound satisfaction and awe.”

-selected excerpts from “Sensing Love’s Tensions and Transformation: Another Look at Spiritual Depths in Chen Kaige’s Movie, Together”, Chinese Cross Currents《神州交流》(English and Chinese) Vol. 4, no. 3 (July 2007), pp. 112-125.

One Comment on “Winter Retreat Day 1: Lectio Divina

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