I was thrown off by the question when it came, following my talk on lectio divina (the prayerful reading of Scripture) to a group of young adults: “Why should I do lectio divina instead of, for example, the Rosary? What does lectio do, that the Rosary doesn’t?”
The answer is rooted in the reason we pray in the first place: to connect with God. To be with him and come to know him. We pray because God invites us into relationship.
If God were a person asking to know me, we could friend each other on Facebook. We could go out to dinner, go for a hike. We could text or talk on the phone, visit each other’s families. But never would I choose just one of those. It’s the combination of many interactions that builds a relationship.
Lectio divina and the Rosary add different dimensions and depth to our relationship with God. They span time and space, drawing us into spiritual “rooms” where we can be with and come to know him.
The Rosary is like a time capsule.
The rosary takes you back in time to first-century Israel. It lands you in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Golgotha, the Upper Room. It puts you in the care of Mary, who walks you through the central events of our salvation. She takes you by the hand as you move along the beads, directing your attention to the Word who took flesh through her.
The Rosary helps us see. It makes us spectators and even participants in those key events, helps us enter their significance. With it, we can take our hopes, fears, pain and uncertainties to the foot of the Cross, to the all-powerful One who loves us.
Lectio divina also takes us somewhere else.
While the rosary might place us in the crowd along the Via Dolorosa to contemplate the Passion, for example, lectio divina pulls us to a place of quiet conversation where we can hear God speak into our own life and situations. The Church tells us,
In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly
to meet his children, and talks with them.
Read that again, if you haven’t before: Sacred Scripture – the Bible – is a place where God meets us for a loving conversation. It’s a spiritual family room, a place of encounter where God uses the words of Scripture to touch our hearts and lives.
Lectio divina helps us hear. When I use lectio divina to pray with Scripture, I’m not studying God, I’m listening. He’s in charge of the conversation. As I slowly read the Bible, he brings a word or phrase to mind. He shines it like a flashlight on my life, makes it personal to me. He gets involved with things that matter to me; plants his word in me like seeds with the potential to grow and blossom.
Because they both are ways to pray, the Rosary and lectio divina have much in common. But they aren’t interchangeable. Here are three ways to look at how they complement each other in their different strengths (recognizing that the list is not exhaustive, and both do other things as well):
1. In the Rosary, I go to meet God. With lectio divina, I let God into my personal space.
2. The Rosary helps me to see. Lectio divina helps me to hear.
3. In the Rosary, God says “look what I have done!” In lectio divina, he says “hear what I have to say to YOU.”
It’s not an either-or, it’s both-and. The Rosary tells his story; lectio connects it to our lives:
- “I know the plans I have for you,” Sarah, God tells me in Jeremiah 29:11.
- “I won’t let you be tried beyond your strength,” he says in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
- “Remain in my love,” he says in today’s Gospel (John 15:9).
All of these are things I know and can do because of the God who sent his Son to die for me, who sent his Holy Spirit, who did those things immortalized in the meditations of the Rosary.
 Dei Verbum, 21.
Looking for more?
- My favorite book on the Rosary is by Roman Guardini: “The Rosary of Our Lady.”
- The “Take it to Heart” tab on my website explains Lectio Divina and provides links to resources
- Search my blog with the tag “Lectio Divina.” A good place to start is a 4-part series called “Flourishing in Drought,” especially Part 4: Soaking in the Word. There you’ll find instructions for praying with Scripture using lectio divina along with a journal template.
- I’ve written two prayer journals that introduce praying with the Psalms using lectio divina. They are available in paperback or e-book from Amazon.com. Click on the pictures below for more information.
© 2014 Sarah Christmyer
Thank you so much for making a case for both the Rosary and Lectio Divina!! I have been taught “how” to pray with Lectio Divina, but I don’t think I ever grasped the “why,” until I just read this post… Thank you so much for this!
How do you, if I may ask, incorporate that in a busy household with littles running around? I am able to fashion 20 minutes a day to pray a Rosary – although sometimes, it’s not very reverent. As I read this post, I found myself asking (again) – how is a mom able to pray with Lectio Divina on a daily basis? Or, would once a week be sufficient?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks, and again, thank you so much for giving me a “why” for this prayer technique!
Sarah Christmyer says
Anni, you’re welcome! When my kids were little, I had not been Catholic long so praying this way with Scripture was my go-to way to be with God. Actually it still is the richest for me. My time has always been early in the morning, before everyone else gets up. I’m not sure how much is sufficient, but any is better than none. Personally, if I don’t attempt daily (even if that doesn’t always work), it doesn’t happen at all. There was a time when I struggled many mornings because of the demands of the kids but I still tried. I do remember getting frustrated during those early years but honestly they pass quickly.
It helps if you have a regular habit and way of doing it. One easy way is if you get the Magnificat, to read the Morning Prayer section prayerfully, looking for the theme that goes through it. It’s more obvious than the themes in the mass readings, it’s shorter, and the editors do a beautiful job of making nearly everything tie in together. If you read slowly and start tracking the theme and then allow yourself to move into prayer over things that strike you, you’ll find yourself doing lectio in no time. I nearly always hear the Lord speak to me there.
Before bed can also be a good time. And there’s Evening Prayer to use, or choose a book of the Bible and read a little bit before you go to sleep each night, then talk to God about what you hear.
There’s more on the “take it to heart” page of my website. I hope you’ll find the richness in lectio. It’s a great way to spend time with the Lord!
Emily Davis says
Your post is beautiful. I loved your line, “The Rosary is like a Time Capsule”. I am pondering your explanation, because I’ve done some Lectio through friends, but I am not sure I 100% understand it. Though I am open to it.
I appreciate your intertwining the two. How do you recommend a beginner start Lectio?
Sarah Christmyer says
Thank you! I recommend you start simply. If you already have a set time of prayer, bring your Bible into it. In my opinion, lectio is easier to do alone than with other people. I’ve described different ways to do this already on my website:
The “Take it to Heart” tab is devoted to Lectio Divina. Also, there are some relevant posts on my blog:
–Here’s some general info with links: https://comeintotheword.com/read-the-bible-like-a-disciple/
–Here’s one that helps you get started. The process described under “Get Set” (How) is lectio divina. https://comeintotheword.com/three-steps-to-daily-bible-reading/
–Here’s a series of four posts that introduce Lectio Divina. The nuts and bolts come in the fourth part. https://comeintotheword.com/flourishing-in-drought-1-secret-of-the-tree/
Also, Ascension Press sells a talk I gave on how to pray using lectio divina, if you’re interested: https://shop.ascensionpress.com/products/receiving-the-word-how-to-pray-with-scripture-using-lectio-divina
If you have more questions, feel free to email me!
Blessings on you,
Emily Davis says
Thank you Sarah. You’re very generous to help so much.
Can’t wait to dig in.
Kristi from Hail Marry says
Sarah, this is a lovely post! Thank you for writing about both of these prayer tooks. I love the richness that the faith gives to us to speak with our Creator!
I’m really looking forward to reading those extra links you gave! Thanks, Sarah–you always share good, “meaty” posts! (Gives me something to chew on!) 😉