“First, Retentio means the distillation of the truths of Scripture and holding them centrally in the mind. This means study and concentration on a passage of Scripture to simply understand it, so you see its thrust. Retentio is thus learning what a passage says.
Second, Contemplatio, means “gazing at God through this truth.” It is to pose and answer questions such as:
- What does this tell me about God; what does it reveal about him?
Above all, the purpose of Contemplatio is to move from a kind of objective analytical view of things to a personal dealing with God as he is. It is to deal with God directly, to stretch every nerve to turn this “knowing about” into knowing — to move from knowing a fact about him to actually “seeing” him with the heart — to adore, to marvel, to rest in, or to be troubled by, to be humbled by him. It is one thing to study a piece of music and another to play it. It is one thing to work on a diamond, cutting and polishing it; it is another to stand back and let it take your breath away.
- How can I praise him for and through this?
- How can I humble myself before him for and through this?
- If he is really like this, what difference does this particular truth make to how I live today?
- What wrong behavior, harmful emotions, false attitudes result in me when I forget he is like this?
- How would my neighborhood, my family, my church, my friends be different if they saw it deeply?
- Does my life demonstrate that I am remembering and acting out of this?
- Lord, what are you trying to tell me about you, and why do you want me to know it now, today?
Third, Dilectio means delighting and relishing the God you are looking at. You begin to actually praise and confess and aspire toward him on the basis of the digested and meditated truth. If you have moved from learning to personal meditation, then, depending on your spiritual sharpness, the circumstances of your life at that time, and God’s sovereign Spirit, you begin to experience him.
Sometimes it is mild, sometimes strong, and sometimes you are very dry. But whenever you are meditating (“contemplatio”) and you suddenly find new ideas coming to you and flowing in, then write them down and move to direct praising and confessing and delighting. That is (as Luther would say) the “Holy Spirit preaching to you.”