The ancient practice of lectio is a gateway from verbal prayers to the richness of meditation and contemplation. When I think of lectio, I think of the passage from psalms "I will hide His word in my heart that I might not sin against God." (RSV: "I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. "--Psalm 119:11). I also think of our model in prayer, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. " (Luke 2:19).
In the practice of lectio, most commonly done with scripture as the basis, we ponder God's word to hear what He is saying to us. A lot of people I know shy away from this because they perceive that such close communion in the Word borders on private interpretation. I think the fear may be overstated if the practice is rightly conducted. Moreover, the purpose of meditation is not to come up with new doctrine and new explanations for the way things are, the purpose is to talk with God and listen to Him in a way that is transformative. If prayer does not change you then it is not as efficacious as it can be.
How does one "do" lectio? All the standard rules of prayer apply--a quiet place, a few moments to recollect oneself and place oneself in the presence of God, an invocation of the Holy Spirit to guide and inform us as we meditate and to protect us from error and intrusion. And then we turn to a passage of scripture. It needn't be long--a single pericope from the gospels, a passage from daily Bible reading in your plan to read through the Bible, or the daily readings from Mass. Even the short verse used in morning and evening prayer can provide a wonderful foundation for prayer. God's word is loaded, packed, and infinitely expandable and ponderable. We read His word slowly and reverently knowing that His Word resides in these words. Jesus is present in the Word, throughout all of scripture. In the Old Testament, He is foreshadowed, announced, and present in a shadowy way and in images and types. (For example Jesus likens himself to the bronze serpent mention in Numbers 21:9 "So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." And again in 2 Kings 18:4 "He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe'rah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush'tan. ") When we look for Jesus in God's Word we will find Him. When we find Him, we need to listen to what He says.
How do we listen? There are a number of ways--we can pursue active imaginative meditation. We can place ourselves in the scene. For example, read the passage of the Gospel of Luke about Zacchaeus. (Luke 19: 2-10 or so). Where are you in the passage? Are you Zacchaeus, are you in the crowd milling about Jesus? Are you standing off somewhere watching the whole thing? Listen to what God has to say to you as the person you are in the meditation. If you are merely observer, what does that say about your involvement in the things of God?
In addition to meditation, if you take a sufficiently short passage, you can simply repeat the passage, turning it over and over in your mind, worshipping God in His holy word. You might in times of dire trouble turn to the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (4:13) "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. " We might rest in this word, awaiting the strength, taking to us the grace that comes from this promise, recognizing its truth and applying it to our lives.
There are many ways of conducting lectio and many worthy sources and books on how to go about it. But first and most important is to immerse yourself in the Word of God. The Church thinks this so important that a plenary indulgence is granted daily to the person who meets all the usual requisite conditions and spends a half-hour or more reading scripture. By reading scripture, I have always assumed that they meant even so small a portion as a verse considered continuously in meditative prayer for half-an-hour; however, I suppose one should consult a canonist on the actuality of this. Even lacking a plenary indulgence, spending half-an-hour in the Word is much like an entire day of vacation. Many cannot spend that much time, but any time spent is well worthwhile.
One major caution: lectio is NOT Bible Study. Bible Study is a good, necessary, and concomitant action that accompanies lectio, however, your meditative prayer time is not the time to mull over the aorist tense of verbs in Pauline injunctions. It isn't the place to ponder the civilization and achievement of the Hyksos or the Chaldeans. It isn't time to speculate about the kerygmatic implications of the Book of Micah. Bible study is a necessary outside activity that inculcates a base-level literal understanding of the text. In the course of Bible study, you may find yourself drawn off into lectio and you would do well to abandon your trials and worries over the text and vanish for a moment into your "private room" where you might spend a few minutes really speaking with God about what His word means.
Lectio is a very powerful, very fulfilling means of prayer. When we conclude our time of prayer it is well to finish with an "Our Father," and with one firm resolution of what we will take away from the time we have spent and practice in the world at large. That is, lectio should touch you where you live and change your life in some small way. After all, how can one sit with the King of Creation and not be transformed?
More about lectio, keeping a journal, and prayer later. For now, just go and try.