St Benedict sees monastic life as being lived out in the presence of God.
“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked.” (RB 19:1)
In living the monastic way of life, Benedict wishes his monks to deepen their awareness of God’s loving presence. By so doing they will become prayerful people and all of their lives will be prayer filled.
One the key practices which St Benedict prescribes to achieve this goal is lectio divina or sacred/holy reading. Benedict encourages us to spend several hours a day reading Scripture in a prayerful way so that we can hear God speaking a personal word to us and enter into a deeper relationship with him.
Through the practice of lectio the Word of God can slowly penetrate our inmost being so that we can gradually become more Christ-like in our thinking, speaking and doing. This process is called by St Paul ‘putting on the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16) and involves above all the conversion of our thinking patterns so that we can begin to see the world through the eyes of Christ.
To experience lectio at first hand, take a short section of a Gospel as your text, and begin by stilling yourself and then asking God’s Spirit to guide you. Try not to rush at the passage, but rather read it as slowly as possible. In this way you let go of the effort to control the text, but allow God to speak a personal word to you. Often you will be drawn to a particular word or phrase, and you should take time to reflect on what it may be saying to you in your life situation. Your response may be at an emotional level or at a thinking level; bring your response before God in prayer, almost in the way of a conversation where you both speak and listen. At this stage it’s not uncommon to just relax silently in God’s loving gaze and to be simply present to the presence of God. And finally, outside the time of lectio you will, with God’s help, put his Word into practice.
A wonderful definition of this process of assimilating God’s Word was given by the German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life in opposition to Hitler:
“We ponder the chosen text on the strength of the promise that it has something utterly personal to say to us for this day … Here we are not expounding [the text] or preparing a sermon or conducting Bible study of any kind; we are rather waiting for God’s Word to us … Often we are so burdened and overwhelmed with other thoughts, images and concerns that it may take a long time before God’s Word has swept all else aside and come through. But it will surely come …”
— Life Together, SCM Press, 1954, p.62.