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On listening to the scriptures

God speaks to us in the meditative reading of scripture, called in the traditional monastic language lectio divina. Like prayer, this is a spiritual art which takes time to acquire. Learning how to do it forms a large part of a novice’s training in a Benedictine monastery.

First of all, when we settle down to read scripture, we are doing something very different from what we do when we read any other sort of book.

Normally we are looking either for information or entertainment, or an experience of beauty, such as from a well-written novel or a fine poem. 

None of these things, however, is what we are looking for when we read scripture.

What matters is that God is speaking to us; there is a voice whose modulations we are trying to catch; a message we are trying to pick up and digest. The text is alive; it crackles with the electricity of communication.

That means we have to tune in to it, to get onto its wave-length. As in all forms of listening, it is a matter of intuitive perception, of opening the ear of the heart. God speaks to us through the Spirit and it is only through the Spirit that we can hear and understand him.

Therefore, before starting lectio divina, it is important to pray to the Holy Spirit asking him for illumination and guidance. Then, after pausing for a few moments of silence in the presence of God, begin reading.

The reading itself should be slow and meditative, with frequent pauses, so as to let the words resonate in the mind. We should regard what we read as being addressed to us personally, in the very situation we find ourselves in.

Its relevance may not be immediately apparent and we need to give it time with frequent pauses for reflection and prayer.

Even so, there may be many resonances in the text, which we are not aware of straight away; as with prayer, it is often not until it is actually over that certain aspects of the message become clear.

For this reason, I have found it fruitful to do lectio divina early in the day so that my mind can revert to it as the day progresses.

Lectio divina puts us in touch with God, it establishes a relationship with him, just as prayer and the   sacraments do in a slightly different way. It is a place of encounter; and the more we resort  to it, the more our relationship with God will deepen.

This relationship, and its ever increasing depth, is the true purpose  of lectio divina. It does not merely give us guidance for conduct; it also reveals something about God, ourselves and our relationship with him.

As we learn to hear and respond to the word of God in prayer and lectio divina, we can learn to do the same in all the circumstances of our daily lives.


The disciple’s ear, open and attentive, can hear God speaking in the bus queue, in the supermarket, in conversation. That is the supreme spiritual art of listening.


Published by Ampleforth Abbey Press with permission: ACTS Hong Kong