Lectio Divina: In oratio, we enter into prayer with God
I remember the first time I ever saw Horseshoe Bend.
Horseshoe Bend is a bend in the Ohio River down at Leavenworth that is so sharp it's shaped in the form of a horseshoe. Along this stretch of the Ohio River, cliffs line the Indiana side of the river, while over on the Kentucky side the terrain is flat.
On the Indiana side, at the sharpest point of the bend in the river, sits a restaurant called the Overlook, which clings to the cliff and provides panoramic views of the river down below.
I was probably 12-years old when I first saw Horseshoe Bend. My parents loaded me and my two brothers into the back seat of the blue 1960 Chevy Impala and drove the 25 or so miles from New Albany down to Leavenworth.
Now, as you approach Horseshoe Bend the road is slightly uphill. As we approached Horseshoe Bend, the family was jabbering away, but when we gained the crest of the hill, the whole panorama of the vista came into view and the jabbering died down as each one of us – mom, dad, my two brothers and myself – suddenly saw this beautiful sight. Finally, we were – for a few moments – completely silent. We just stared at this wonder of nature.
Welcome to stage three of lectio divina: prayer.
Recall that in the previous two columns we looked at the first two stages of lectio divina (sacred reading). Stage one was reading (lectio); stage two was meditation (meditatio). Stage three, what we want to look at here, is prayer (oratio).
In both stage one and stage two we are speaking aloud, though in a quiet voice. In the lectio stage we read until the Holy Spirit strikes us in a word or short phrase. In the meditatio stage we repeat the word or short phrase over and over again, even as we print that word or phrase down in our notebook, until the word or short phrase becomes a part of us.
Now, in oratio, our vocal repetition fades away, just as words faded away when my family and I saw that vista down at Horseshoe Bend. For in this third stage, oratio (prayer), we enter into prayer with God.
After the initial jolt of seeing the vista at Horseshoe Bend passed, my family resumed chatting away, though the topic of our chattering was now the vista before us.
The same goes for the prayer stage in lectio divina; after the vocalization of the Scriptures comes the silence of praying to God. However, that silence need not be maintained at this stage. In this stage, prayer, the Scripture that we read and meditated upon becomes the springboard for prayer with God.
There are no rules here. How you converse with God is your private concern. The point, though, is to converse. This can be done silently or aloud, though as I noted, it might very well start out silently as the repetition of the words from the second stage slowly fade into silence.
Furthermore, there is no time limit. My rule of thumb is to allow prayer to continue as long as you feel the stirring of the Holy Spirit within you, be it 15 seconds or 15 minutes.
In terms of food, this stage of lectio divina can be likened to extracting the flavor of the food. The reading stage (lectio) is likened to putting the food into your mouth. The meditation stage (meditatio) is likened to chewing the food, to breaking it down into smaller chunks. Here, at the prayer stage (oratio), we are concerned with savoring that which we are chewing.
And what we are chewing on is God. So savor the Savior! Delight in him! Taste him!
As my parents and brothers and I looked upon the wonderful vista at Horseshoe Bend, eagles soared high above the river. The air currents were such that the eagles never once flapped their wings. Those eagles just drifted effortlessly; being held aloft by the breath of God.
That's what you are doing in prayer: being held aloft by God, soaring above the fray, drifting in peace.