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'Sacred Reading' a Unique Way to Pray Lectio Divina

August 11, 2015

With the release of the new annual prayer book Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer, Ave Maria Press asked author Doug Leonard, executive director of the Apostleship of Prayer—“the pope’s prayer group”—to reflect on its uniqueness and the overall importance of daily prayer in our lives.

Ave Maria Press: What is unique about Sacred Reading?

Douglas Leonard: It's a unique mix of Ignatian prayer practices: reminding yourself that you are already in the presence of God as you begin to pray; God is also present to pray through you; the Scripture is the daily Gospel which revolves around Jesus, himself the Word of God; you read the passage with your whole being—mind, emotions, imagination, etc.; you pray beginning with what jumps out at you (prompted by the Spirit, one trusts); your prayer can involve any or all modes of prayer—asking for things, praising, worshipping, interceding, thanking, and/or just being present with God; you take time to listen to what the Lord has to say to you; and finally you ask God to show you how to live today so the prayer experience makes a difference in your daily life.

What is unique about the book is that it prompts the reader to pray—it doesn't try to do the praying for the reader. The prompts are also an effort to get the Holy Spirit involved in the prayer. It's all about openness to God's leading. You may be moved to sing or dance! Those can be prayer too.

Question: Lectio Divina is an ancient practice. How can Catholics make it relevant for their lives today?

Leonard: Lectio Divina is just Latin for ‘sacred reading’ and people have been doing in as long as there has been scripture. Any part of the Bible can be used—Genesis through Revelation. Some people pray with other spiritual texts as well, like Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ. Sacred Reading is relevant for anyone who seeks to encounter God and grow in his or her relationship with God.  

Question: Why is a prayer practice such as this so important to work into our daily lives?

Leonard: Doing it daily makes it an ongoing relationship rather than a weekly or occasional experience. Prayer is the key to knowing and loving God. If we love someone, we want to communicate with him or her every day. Without prayer, we have no relationship with God (though God always has a relationship with us and every person in the world).  

Doing Sacred Reading every day makes it a cumulative experience because you carry your experience of previous days into this day.  In that way, Sacred Reading becomes an increasingly rich experience. This is one good reason to do it with a journal—writing your words and God's words. That spiritual notebook over time becomes your spiritual autobiography. After my mother died I found among her papers some prayers she'd written down and she'd even recorded what God was saying to her. What God said to her was very precious.  

Question: How does Sacred Reading fit into the overall mission of the Apostleship of Prayer?

Leonard: Sacred Reading fits the mission of the Apostleship of Prayer because we encourage people to offer themselves to God each day for the good of themselves, those in need, all people, those who serve Christ and his Church. That offering of self to God is a natural thing to do while engaged in sacred reading. If Jesus says, “follow me” you will respond “I am doing it, Lord. How may I serve you today?” Sacred Reading tries to encourage people to serve others, not just pray for them—though it starts with prayer. Everything starts with prayer.

Question: Is this kind of prayer practice hard to do? Does it get boring? How long does it take?

Leonard: No, you cannot make a mistake. This prayer relies on God. It's open ended. There is no script, just prompts. Even the same passage will jump out at you in different ways, as the Spirit moves. It takes as little as five minutes, I suppose, but even as much as an hour. It depends how long you are able to talk to God. Sometimes we need to “pray through” a particularly difficult challenge in our lives or our faith. This is a great way to pray through.

Question: Is Sacred Reading a contemplative prayer method?

Leonard: Yes. Contemplation and meditation are many things to many people. With practice, you become better at contemplation and meditation. This book seeks to give you practice in contemplation every day. In fact, I developed this method of sacred reading for my own prayer life. I really wanted to involve the best of everything into one daily experience. This is how I pray and, glory to God, I feel the Lord meets me, teaches me, talks to me, loves me, and guides me every day. God also hears my prayers for others.

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