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Lectio Divina Unleashed: Part Four (Music)

To find the previous entries on lectio divina with scripture, poetry, and icons, just click on the “lectio divina” tab under the title.

To the Trinity be praise!
God is music, God is life
that nurtures every creature in its kind.
Our God is the song of the angel throng
and the splendor of the secret ways
hid from all humankind,
But God our life is the life of all.
-Hildegard of Bingen, Antiphon for the Trinity

Hildegard believed that music was an essential part of her community’s formation. In fact, at the end of her life she was in conflict with church authorities over a man who was buried on their property and she was more upset at being banned from singing than she was at not being able to receive communion.

J.S. Bach is one of my favorite classical composers. He signed all of his musical compositions “SDG” meaning Soli Deo Gloria or to the Glory of God alone. Music has an incredible power in our lives that perhaps originates from our very heartbeat, that primordial life-sustaining rhythm. Have you ever heard a song you loved and played it over and over again? I invite you to use lectio divina as a way of praying with music.

Lectio helps us to listen for the ways God speaks to us in the world. I suggest choosing music without words at first, because words add another layer of meaning to the experience. Try praying with just the sounds of instruments or vocalization. One of the pieces of music I love most is Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello. The cello is an instrument for me that expresses deep wordless longing. I often use one of the movements when I introduce people to this way of praying. You can click on this link and scroll down to the 7th selection and download the Prelude from the 2nd Suite for Solo Cello played by Nathaniel Rosen (unfortunately the streaming link is broken). The piece is about 4:40 long, or you can choose another piece of music you feel drawn to pray with.

Prepare for your lectio prayer by finding a quiet place and take some time to settle yourself into stillness and rest in silence.  Breathe deeply and be present to your body.  Become aware of the sacredness of this time you have set aside to be present to God.

First Hearing
The first moment in lectio is reading God’s word.  As in praying with icons, we are dealing with an entirely different kind of sacred “text.” Play the piece of music once to enter into its landscape. Notice the sounds of the notes and silences between them, rest into the movement of the music. Be present to how it rises and falls in your body and imagination. Allow the music to fill you, breathing it in. Slowly become aware if there is a dominant sound or image or feeling that is calling to you in this initial experience. Rest with that image or feeling, taking it in and being fully present to it

Second Hearing
Play the music a second time. This time while listening allow the sound or image or feeling that first called to you to draw you more deeply into the experience of it.  Allow it to unfold in your imagination and notice what memories, feelings, images or other sounds are evoked.  Notice how the experience of listening to the music touches you and how you might express that touch. Hold the awareness of how the music is flowing through you and what is being evoked.

Third Heaing
Play the music a third time. This time focus on how your heart wants to respond to being touched. What is the invitation present in the unfolding of sounds, images, memories, and feelings for you today?  How is God speaking to your life in this moment through this music?  What is the “yes” within you that is longing to be expressed? If you feel comfortable, take a moment to express with your voice what you are experiencing in your body.  It might be a simple sound or a line from a song or something you have created in the moment.

Resting with God
Spend some time resting in silence and releasing the sounds, feelings, and images that are stirring in you.   Close your eyes for a few minutes and rest in the stillness in simple awareness of God’s presence.  Allow yourself some time to simply be.

When you have come to the end of your prayer time you may want to play the music again and just experience it anew from the other side of the lectio time. Notice if anything else stirs in you and offer a prayer of thanks for the gift of this time and for God’s presence in beauty and stillness.

Praying with music is a very different experience from praying with words or images. We might call this way of praying audio divina or sacred listening.

In response to your encounter with music you may want to explore using sound to express what happened in your prayer experience.  What does your “yes” to God sound like this day?

-Christine Valters Paintner

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10 Responses

  1. Hi Michael, Thanks for the visit and for the blog link. I’ll take some time later to look it over and see. Sounds like a wonderful idea. I have a deep love of lectio. Blessings, Christine

  2. I have deeply enjoyed and benefitted from the discipline of Lectio Divina. I’ve been offering a shortened version at the opening of some Church meetings at a small gathering in San Diego. It has been well received and I thought to create a blog as a way to encourage people to practice this reading/meditation daily.

    The purpose of the blog is really only to suggest passages daily and provide a place for sharing their experiences in a spirit of edification. You’re all welcome to join us, and I would really appreciate any suggestions you might make about the functionality of the blog I’ve created. I want it to be as intuitive as possible.

    check it out at


  3. Oh my goodness! How cool that you have the same CD’s :) I do hope others get these CDs, too and feel the same sacredness. If anything…they can listen to the song clips at the Amazon link.

  4. Oh Bette! I have the same set of 3 CD’s and I adore them, bring them often when I lead creative process as music to hold the space. (and others reading this, they are really worth buying all three!) That kind of music would work so well with this prayer. Let me know how it unfolds for you!

  5. Thank you, Christine. Your words and thoughts have caused me to get out my favorite music today so I can listen to God’s “Yes” for my life.

    My extreme sacred meditation music is listening to “Sacred Treasures – Choral Masterworks from Russia” and their other cds – II and III. This unaccompanied a capella singing is called Divine Liturgy. Since I do not know the Russian language, I can listen and not have to identify with the meaning of the words, but allow the harmonious singing and chanting to carry me away from my body and from the things of this world, into a meditative place of sacred, dark, quiet, fragrant peace.

    I’m listening to it now.

  6. Wendy, thank you so much for the images you offer especially that of our yes being the opening for God. That is exactly it and that phrasing touched me. Lectio really is about this opening to the holy in all things, both within and without. Music without rest and silence in between would be a cacophany, our lives with rest and silence are similar. There are many more ways to pray with lectio, but for now this feels like enough. I may add more in the coming weeks.

    Trish, I thought of you as I wrote this, I wondered what it must be like to have music so woven into who you are that, as you say, you remember the song of a season before its particulars. I’d love to hear what your experience of using lectio with music is, and I imagine you already pray this way without the words or structure to it.

    Blessings to you, Christine

  7. As a musician, music is my native tongue. In times of particular transition or memorable circumstance music becomes my Ally, my Guide, my Midwife. Sometimes my heart can name such a season by the soundtrack of music that sustained me before my mind can remember the particulars of the storyline. It is because of this emotional bond I have with music that I feel so drawn to using music and sound in my work with other women. Very powerful.

    Thank you for this new way to pray with music. Your invitation to find the YES from God in a piece of music is wonderful. Thank you.

    I’m off to check out the music you’ve linked to!


  8. There is a real solidity to this four part series you have offered us Christine, like the sides of a house. I feel it has truly been a gift. I love the phrases you have added to lectio divina–visio divina and audio divina–which open things up so much more to seeking God in all of His creation wherever He might want to speak. And I REALLY love the cord running through it all, the question “What is the “yes” within you that is longing to be expressed?”. There is something deeply healing there, the small yes that lets God in.

    With this last part, I am moved by being reminded of music’s connection with the heartbeat. Which brings things back to the rest… the rythym of words, the writing of icons. The heartbeat runs through it all…