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Lectio Divina with Middle Schoolers

An image of Jesus Christ in blue and gold. He holds the Scriptures in his hands.
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Lectio Divina, or praying with Scripture, is one of my favorite forms of prayer. Taking time to read a passage of the Bible, meditate on what it might be saying for my own life, and responding in prayer to God has been an enjoyable and fruitful part of my spiritual practice since I was introduced to Lectio in high school.

Perhaps because of the way I was taught to pray Lectio Divina, I have always been very quick to latch onto one word or phrase in the passage. Being taught how to meditate on Scripture as a high school student, this was a very helpful way to direct my thoughts and truly have a personal interaction with the text. Focusing on one word or phrase allowed me to make the passage personal, instead of just thinking about the most common interpretation. So, naturally, I emphasize this a lot while leading Lectio Divina in my classroom (at the start of class every Monday).

When we get to the slide for step 2, “Meditate,” I read or ask a student to read the question, “What does the passage say to ME in MY life today? What word or phrase most stands out to me?” Last week I really wanted them to zoom in on a word or phrase, so I made them write it down for their warm-up activity that day.

However, what I realized my fifth class of the day was that I had now spent close to thirty minutes reflecting on a few verses of the Gospel, and I had no personal thoughts inspired by the text. I had certainly not picked a word or phrase to meditate on. I had certainly not responded to God based on what I thought the text was saying for ME in MY life (even though I emphasized that step so much for each group of students).

Part of this lack was due to real logistical concerns. I had a few students in each class that would be reading a book or doing homework if I wasn’t scanning the classroom, and silently reminding them to put everything else away so that there would be a chance of prayer. There were several students who would literally be poking their neighbors if they didn’t hear my voice moving around to different parts of the classroom. There were about three in 7th period who continually made eye contact and burst out laughing during prayer almost every day. Part of me had to be a teacher and that means part of my focus had to be on whether or not my students were opening themselves up to prayer.

However, I occasionally ask if anyone wants to share their favorite part of the passage, and I get an average of .02 hands in the air every time I ask that question. How can I expect the students to be connecting with the passage when I haven’t been able to model that for them?

Next week I may sacrifice my eagle eye sweeps of the classroom for a little more time talking to God. If I can’t show them what it looks like to make a passage of Scripture personal, if I can’t end prayer with, “I was really focused on the word _____ and it reminded me of ______ in my life,” I can’t expect them to figure out how that works on their own. From my actions, they must think Lectio Divina is just about staying silent and keeping your eyes closed or on the prayer Powerpoint.

Teaching prayer has to be a balance. Lectio Divina this week reminded me that it’s okay to step down from the teacher persona once in awhile to model the new prayer practices I’m trying to teach them. The kinds of prayer I love won’t mean anything to them without having a real encounter with what they can do.

Young woman at Delphi
Sami Burr

Sami Burr is '16 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. She serves as an Echo Theology Teacher at Nativity Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis