Spiritual Exercises

Lexio Divina: The Fifth Spiritual Exercise

GetAttachmentThumbnail-1The first four spiritual exercises form a group of practices that lay a foundation for all that is to come, and yet are a complete spiritual ‘workout’ in themselves. The purpose of this first group is to help us become proficient meditators, able to quieten the mind easily so we may hear the voice of the Spirit clearly. For this reason we refer to this first group collectively as “Learning to Be Still”.  As you practice, you will develop the concentration, spiritual sensitivity and focus that will help greatly as you add other practices to your prayer life.

The purpose of the second group group of practices is that of “Learning to Listen” and they help us develop the biblical practice of Contemplation. If the first group creates a sacred space where God may speak, the second group helps us to hear and clearly interpret that voice.

The first exercise in this group has been referred to by many names over the centuries, but is most commonly known by its Latin name, Lexio Divina, or the practice of Divine Reading. It is a simple yet intensely nourishing way to encounter God in the scriptures; not as a concept to be analysed and dissected, but as a lover, writing love-letters to his beloved. It is a method of encountering the scriptures where the Bread of Life may be slowly chewed, savoured, digested and incorporated into our lives. It is definitely not a fast-food fix, but the slow and deliberate partaking of a shared spiritual banquet with the beloved.

The Practice:

Begin by bringing yourself to a place of quiet rest. The best way to do this is to use one or more of the first group of exercises in order to enter that peaceful state of spiritual attentiveness and receptivity where the mind quietens down and the distractions of life are put aside for a while.

Now choose a short passage of scripture. You are going to slowly chew this passage, word by word, extracting all the spiritual nutrients you can. Try to avoid allowing your mind to start categorising, analysing and comparing, and just enjoy the savour of the phrase on your tongue. Take a slow, mindful in-breath and as you exhale repeat the word in your heart. Take another breath and chew it over slowly, allowing the Spirit to make it personal to you. Take another slow breath and ‘swallow’ that word, even as the Angel told the Apostle John to “eat the scroll” (Ezekiel 3:3), and let it’s nourishment feed your soul. Remember, we are after revelation, not information – to hear the voice of the the beloved rather than learn facts about the beloved.

Here is a good scripture you might like to start with, from As usual, we will use the breath to help create a devotional ‘rhythm’ to the practice; slowing us down and helping us to avoid racing through the exercise in an effort to get to the finish line!

(Breathing in…)
Be Still… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
And Know… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
That I… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Am God… (Breathing out)  x3 

Now take a few moments just to let that phrase rest in your heart before slowly and deliberately repeating the practice. 

Another way of using this practice is to slowly build a whole phrase (and some phrases work quite well if you then reverse the process:

(Breathing in…)
Be Still… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Be Still and Know… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)   
Be Still and Know I Am… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Be Still and Know I Am God… (Breathing out)  x3 
(Breathing in…)
Be Still and Know I Am… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Be Still and Know… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Be Still… (Breathing out)   x3
(Breathing in…)
Be… (Breathing out)  x3 

One final very simple example (and one of my favourite practices) runs like like:

He must increase… (Breathing in…)
I must decrease… (Breathing out…) 

There are countless other scriptures that may be used this way. You can even use this to really chew over your favourite hymn or if you have more time, to contemplate the Lord’s Prayer or pray through one of Paul’s prayers in Ephesians. Some other short examples are:

“My Life is Hidden with Christ in God…”  (Colossians 3:3)
“Vast, Unmeasured, Boundless, Free…”  (Samuel Francis)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I Shall not Want.”  (Psalm 23:1)
”My God, and My All…” St. Francis Assisi
“In Him we live, and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28)
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the Sound…”  (John Newton)
“His banner over me is love.”  (Song of Solomon 2:4)
“I am me beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”  (Song of Solomon 6:3)
“Thou has made us for Thyself…”  (St. Augustine)
“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  (Desert Fathers)
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)
“May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.”  (Psalm 19:14)

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