A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology

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Lectio divina , or holy reading, is a special technique for reading scripture. It was developed by Alexandrian Christians in the early centuries and subsequently adopted by many monastic communities. The modern form comes from Guido II, a Carthusian monk who distinguished separate phases of:
  • Reading (lectio),
  • Reflection (meditatio),
  • Prayer (oratio), and
  • Contemplation (contemplatio).

These phases correspond fairly well to the four primary cognitive functions posited by psychologist Carl Jung: sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuiting. Recognizing this association is important, because it emphasizes how the method of lectio divina, while itself a spiritual activity, nonetheless involves psychological processes.

One consequence is that the method can be used not just by Christians, but for people of other faiths in reading their their scripture-- whether that be the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, or the Qur'an. Non-Christians may simply make suitable modifications of the method to accommodate their traditions.

A method of lectio divina based explicitly on Jungian psychological principles was taught to me by a retreat director several years ago. I've unfortunately lost the original photocopied instructions but here attempt to reconstruct the method from memory.

Lectio Divina - Holy Reading

The purpose of lectio divina is to engage all cognitive functions in the reading of scripture. In this way our reading serves the purpose to love and serve God with "all ones heart, mind, soul, and strength."

Pick a passage of scripture; not too long--about the size of a gospel or epistle reading, or perhaps no more than 20 lines.

To motivate reading and good attention, one may consider the value and benefits of what one is about to read, such as:


  1. One may begin by making the sign of the cross. This ancient custom has many benefits. Many modern Westerners admire the asanas or prayer postures of the East and Middle East. Yet we have our own rich tradition of such spiritually efficacious customs.

    Before prayer or meditation, we do well to remind ourselves of who we are and who God is. In making the sign of the cross we address ourselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  2. The Lord's Prayer is taught to us by no less than Christ himself. We may suppose it to be the most perfect of prayers, much greater than any of human authorship. Each word has great significance. We do well to pray this often, and, should it seem suitable, before lectio divina.

  3. One may wish to make the preparatory prayer used by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, which is: to ask grace of God our Lord that all my intentions, actions and operations may be directed purely to the service and praise of His Divine Majesty.

The lectio divina now commences, consisting of four successive readings of the material.


The goal here is to examine the material solely as a perceptual experience--to sense it without trying to understand its meaning.

There is a scientific basis for this. One reason people have trouble or limited comprehension in reading is because subtle fears operate to dissuade them from placing full attention on certain words or sections. Perhaps a word reminds us of some area of personal anxiety, fear, dread--something we wish to avoid thinking about. Our peripheral vision unconsciously detects this and makes us avoid looking directly at the material.

The present step effects a "de-sensitization." By examining the material first, it becomes safe and familiar. Your mind is then open to ascertain its meaning.

Look at the material. Give it your undivided attention. Position the book or computer in a way that permits this. Relax and perhaps take a deep breath. Pass through the material noticing each word in sequence. Notice the letters themselves--their shapes, details, serifs. Notice even the punctuation.

With experience you may modify this step, for example, scanning at different speeds, or trying other variations.


Here you engage the understanding. Slowly, silently, read the material again. Notice the words; and encourage mental images of them. Play with the words and the images. Look for puns. For instance, with the phrase, "the wine is lost" (from the parable of wineskins; Mk 2:22), imagine someone misplacing a bottle of wine. You might notice a new word in a familiar passage, some detail that's previously escaped your attention.

This method applies your thinking processes in a gentle and unforced way. Interpretations can come spontaneously to the mind. Your thinking, then, is more open to the influence of the Spirit, and less controlled by over-intellectualization.

Once you are comfortable with the approach above, you may choose to experiment with other ways to engage the thinking faculties.

For example, sometimes you may ask yourself: "do I fully understand this sentence, or have I glossed over parts because it seems too long or complex?" Then you might make yourself patiently consider all the words, clauses, and concepts, studying the sentence. An important part of this is your being aware of what you are doing, being 'honest' with yourself, etc.


Here to pray for an interior knowledge or special insight of the passage's meaning, and perhaps how that may apply to ones current life or concerns. Read the material again--slowly, silently. This time proceed as though you wished to bypass intellectual understanding and let knowledge pass directly to some interior faculty of intuition. Do not attend too much to specific words, unless perhaps one draws your attention in a special way.

Here there is much latitude and different people will find different approaches more suitable. One may, for example, imagine the truth of the passage radiating into the mind or soul, while the intellect remains passive.

We may also allow for an intuition of the heart. Thus one may similarly imagine a passage's truth radiating into the heart, or the like.


The truth or logos of a passage having been illumined by the preceding steps, now you are free to benefit from the feeling or emotional aspects of the reading. Breathe and exhale. Place yourself in the warm, "Shalom" of God's loving presence. Read the material again--and, as in the last phase, not attending much to specific words. Experience God's kindness. Enjoy God's goodness.

Give thanks to God for having given so great a gift as your intellect and the words of scripture to advise, direct, teach, console, etc.


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To Cite this Page

Uebersax, John S. (2007). "A Method for Lectio Divina Based on Jungian Psychology". Online article. Retrieved from http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/lectio.htm on mmm dd, yyyy.

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