Continuing with the Pope's reflections on meditation on August 17, he said:
"To meditate therefore means to create within ourselves an atmosphere of recollection, of interior silence, so as to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith, and all that God is doing in us -- and not only the things that come and go. We can "ruminate" in many ways; for instance, by taking a short passage of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle's Letters, or a page from a spiritual author we are drawn to and which makes the reality of God in our today more present, perhaps taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director; by reading and reflecting on what we've just read, pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us."
One of the disciplines that Benedictines, and certainly other religious and laity engage in is Lectio Divina or sacred reading. It is an essential part of their prayer life. This is what the Pope is speaking about. Lectio is an ancient approach to prayer that involves four stages:
Lectio - slow and prayerful reading of a passage
Meditatio - meditating on the passage
Oratio- praying with the passage, asking God to speak to you through the words
Contemplatio - allowing God to speak in the silence
Lectio Divina is best when using scripture but it can be practiced using other spiritual authors as the Pope suggests. I usually reflect on one of the readings of the day for Mass, but I have also used passages from the Office of Readings or from spiritual books I am reading. In my two year journey with John of the Cross, I often engaged in Lectio Divina using the writings and poetry of this great mystical doctor.
The first step, lectio, involves choosing a passage and reading it slowing a few times. Some suggest that reading it out loud is beneficial. The second step is meditatio. We take the passage and "ruminate" on the words. The suggestion I have been given is to "ponder and mull" the words on the page. This can't be rushed. Sometimes it takes about fifteen minutes, but other times it has taken me days to meditate on a passage.
What do I like about Lectio Divina? First, it forces me to be still and silent. It is difficult to focus and meditate with all the noise that surrounds us each day and the time I spend in sacred reading quiets the noise and brings me to a quiet place. Second, I become immersed in what I am reading, whether it be scripture or other spiritual reading. It is different than reading for pleasure, or entertainment, or for academic purposes. Third, the words speak to me personally. In reading and in meditating upon them I come to know God. Fourth, it is truly prayer. Prayer is lifting of the mind and heart to God, and in sacred reading both the mind and heart are fully engaged in speaking to and listening to God. Finally, in the stillness and silence, I discover what God is telling me through the passage as I simply sit and listen. This final step, contemplation, is completely in the hands of God. It is in this step where the stresses and concerns of the day fade into the background and my body relaxes in God's gentle caress.