It is in meditation upon Scripture where we find the “sanctified imagination” used most frequently. Indeed, this way of approaching the sacred text has a long and time-honored history among the people of God. It even has a special name: lectio divina, “divine reading” or “spiritual reading.”
What does lectio divina mean? Well, it means listening to the text of Scripture–really listening, listening yielded and still. It means submitting to the text of Scripture, allowing its message to flow into us rather than attempting to master it. It means reflecting on the text of Scripture, allowing both mind and heart to be fully engaged in the meaning of the passage. It means praying the text of Scripture, letting the biblical reality give rise to our heart cry of gratitude, confession, lament and petition. It means applying the text of Scripture, seeing how God’s Holy Word provides a personal word for our life circumstances. It means obeying the text of Scripture, turning, always turning away from our human ways and into the way everlasting.
Most of all lectio divina means seeing the text of Scripture, engaging the sanctified imagination in the full drama of God’s Word. St. Francis de Sales counseled, “Represent to your imagination the whole of the mystery on which you desire to meditate as if it really passed in your presence. For example, if you wish to meditate on our Lord on the Cross, imagine that you are on Mount Calvary, and that you there behold and hear all that was done or said on the day of the Passion.” Alexander Whyte declared, “With your imagination anointed with holy oil, you…open your New Testament. At one time, you are the publican: at another time, you are the prodigal…at another time, you are Mary Magdalene: at another time, Peter in the porch…till your whole New Testament is all over autobiographic of you.”
Lectio divina is a meditative, spiritual reading in which both the mind and the heart are drawn into the love of God. When he was at Harvard, Henri Nouwen once showed me a lovely picture hanging on his apartment wall. The picture depicted a woman holding an open Bible in her lap, but her eyes were lifted upward, as if toward heaven. The idea is that in lectio we are both reading the words and attending to the Lord high and lifted up.
We are told that after all the enormous events surrounding Jesus’ birth “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). In lectio we are learning to do the same.
Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, 40-42.