In this series of blogs on lectio divina, we have focused especially on its second movement, meditatio or meditation. Meditation on a text indissolubly connects the theological and practical or ethical side of discipleship in Christ. Jean Leclerq, who has helped us in earlier blogs, writes that meditari [to meditate] means, in a general way, to think, to reflect … it often implies intent to do it; in other words, to prepare oneself for it, to prefigure it in the mind, to desire it, in a way, to do it in advance – briefly to practice it.”

Ponder Leclercq’s explanation and Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. The person who hears” Jesus’ words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24). The fool is the person who hears Jesus’ teaching but fails to change in his behavior. Hearing, yes. Practice, no. 

Meditatio is specifically practiced to overcome this disjunction between what the ears hear and the arms and legs practice. Interestingly, as Leclerq points out, in the secular world meditari was applied to physical exercises and sports, to those of military life, of the school world, to rhetoric, poetry, music, and finally, to moral practices. To practice a thing by thinking of it, is to fix it in the memory, to learn it.” 

To meditate upon a text, to chew on it like a dog chews on a bone, is to read a text and to learn it “’by heart’ in the fullest sense of this expression, that is, with one’s whole being: with the body, since the mouth pronounced it, with the memory which fixes it, with the intelligence which understands its meaning, and with the will which desires to put it into practice.” 

Or consider Eugene Peterson’s perspective on meditation: Meditatio is the discipline we give to keeping the memory active in the act of reading. Meditatio moves from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text. As we take this text into ourselves, we find that the text is taking us into itself. For the world of the text is far larger and more real than our minds and experience.” 

Consider again the theological foundations of lectio divina. Lectio divina is a spiritual discipline practiced with the specific goal of reading Christ into the heart, of proportioning our consciousness to Christ’s mind, of shaping our thinking and behavior to the life of Christ — to Jesus’ words and to his deeds. God, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2). Thus, we need to learn to listen to him well. 

The apostle John teaches that the eternal Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John writes, No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus instructs the apostles: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you,” and when the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:7, 13 – 14). 

We chew, digest, and assimilate this rich revelatory meal served to us by the Holy Trinity through the practice of lectio divina. As we do so, the possibility behind Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the Philippians — Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5) — increasingly becomes a reality within us. For, as Paul says to the Corinthians, we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

And so, as the evening fades and sleep approaches, I turn on my iPod. I twirl the directional dial to Matthew 5 and once again I am with Jesus on the mountain and hear the familiar cadences of the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3 – 10). 

I hit the pause button, rewind the dial and listen to the same words again and again. They are forming me, shaping me, changing me, healing me. Christ’s mind, slowly, ever so slowly and painfully, is gradually becoming my own. 

Metaphors to describe what is happening to me as I fiddle in the dark with my iPod tumble together: I am gnawing on a bone; I am listening to a symphony; I am eating a meal whose courses never end; I am swimming in a river; I am drinking living water; I am silently listening, like a wolf in the mountains, with my ears perched back to pick up the smallest hint of a sound that may lead me to my prey, my sustenance; and occasionally, only occasionally, I let out a howl.