Contemplative Practice for Word & Image

Lectio Divina is an ancient practice for encountering scripture in which a text is read a number of times as a way to inspire movement in meditative thinking.  Traditionally it is a 4 step process of Reading, Meditating / Rumination, Prayer, and Contemplating. The practice doesn’t require any particular beliefs and has been adapted for reading various texts, including secular poems. The process below takes inspiration from Sage Cohen’s section on Lectio in Writing the Life Poetic (Writers Digest Books, 2009).

Step 1: Reading for the “Interior Spark” (Lectio) ~ Slow repeated reading for inspiration rather than information.  

You are invited to read your text three times, taking a pause between each reading, perhaps closing your eyes, and listening for a special word or phrase that calls your attention.

Step 2: Ruminate (Meditatio) ~ A time for inner musing where you are invited to “listen with the ears of your heart.”

You may want to do this by journal writing. Begin by writing down the word or words that most called your attention. Next, free write; just let the associations and ideas that come from exploring these words flow out of your pen for 2 to 10 minutes depending on how much time you have for the practice. Then circle back to read what you’ve written. Are there words or ideas that repeat? What of your current ideas or beliefs are affirmed? What surprised are revealed?  What is soulful?

Step 3: Gifts and Gratitude (Oratio) ~ Identifying a gift you are taking away from your encounter with what you’ve been reading.

Out of your lectio and meditatio, find the insight that is speaks to your greatest needs or highest dreams of the moment. Let that insight come into summary form of a few words, perhaps a a few lines or a sentence or two. Let yourself be with that insight through writing it down or sitting with eyes closed and repeating a key words. You might pick a word or phrase to repeat when you breath in and another to repeat when you breath out. Do this for at least a few rounds.

Step 4: Being With the Gifts (Contemplatio) ~ Do nothing. Just be.

Before you move back into your busy life, let yourself just be without doing anything in particular. This creates a space for your to integrate the gifts of the practice into your being.


I modified the traditional process done with words to one for working with images, specifically the Tarot, one of my favorite contemplative tools. But you can select any image to use with this process. You’ll recognize the steps.

Step 1: Taking a Long Loving Look (Visio)

  • Sit comfortably with a Tarot card (or any inspirational image) before you.  Gaze at it. Take “a long, loving look.” Then close your eyes and let some part of the image come into focus for you.  Spend a few moments with your eyes remaining closed to be with that image.
  • Open your eyes and gaze again at the card or image for a moment or two.  When you close your eyes again for a few moments perhaps a new image will come up for attention or the one from your first round will re-appear.  Accept whatever comes.
  • You may want to repeat the process a third time.

Step 2: Ruminate (Meditatio)

Take up your journal and write or draw/doodle about what you saw / experienced.  Muse about what these images might mean to you. Explore now with words and/or doodles for a few minutes.

(Optional for Tarot cards / Only to be done after your own reflection:  Read just a bit from the book that came with your deck or an inspirational Tarot writer such as Rachel Pollack about the card.  You are reading for inspiration. Stop when you hit an idea that resonates with or expands on what you have already been journaling/doodling about.  Include it in your musings. Stop reading and start writing/doodling again.)

Step 3: Insight and Prayer (Oratio)

Close your eyes and clear your mind with a few gentle breaths. Let some message of insight, gratitude, or supplication arise from your heart.  Be with this message.

Step 4: Connecting with Wisdom (Contemplatio)

Rest in what you have received.  Pause before you jump into your busy life.  Be in the presence of your new connection to this card and the wisdom of the sacred images.


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