Art as Spiritual Discipline

How did art become primarily relegated for children or the (supposedly) refined?

“Darling, do you see that Art? I love the way the blah, blah, blah highlights the use of the unusual technique that very under appreciated artist used. What’s that? Why yes, I think it is time for a cuppa and a scone.”

Yet another great tactic of the enemy of our souls. Believe this lie: Art is for them, or her, or the very talented, not for you. Not for your soul.

Thankfully we have a God who says, “What a bunch of nonsense. You are made in my image and as imagebearers you were made for art. You need it to feed your soul.”

You might have heard of Lectio Divina, Latin for Divine Reading. “Traditionally, Lectio Divina has four separate steps: read; meditate; pray; contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.”

As wonderful and meaningful as Lectio Divina can be—and let me also say as powerful as the Bible is—not everyone has an easy time with reading. Again, thankfully God doesn’t have one right way to interact with Him. Enter Visio Divina. It’s Latin for divine seeing or “praying with art.”

One blog put it this way: “Think of Visio divina like this–putting on God-glasses to see how an image illuminates Christ for you.”

Another blog explains, “Visio divina invites one to encounter the divine through images. A prayerful consideration of and interaction with a photograph in the magazine, icon, piece of art, or other visual representation allows the viewer to experience the divine in a unique and powerful way.

“Visio divina can be practiced individually or with a group in a small group or worship setting by using a piece of art as a focal point for prayer. Scripture can also be paired with the image in order for the viewer to reflect on the scripture through the art.”

We want to give us all a chance to practice Visio Divina and share insights in the comments. Here is a simple description of how to practice this discipline. A modified version of these steps can be found here.

  1. Pick out an image. (We will provide one below.)
  2. Look at the image and let your eyes stay with the very first thing that you see. Keep your attention on that one part of the image that first catches your eye. Try to keep your eyes from wandering to other parts of the picture. Breathe deeply and let yourself gaze at that part of the image for a minute or so.
  3. Now, let your eyes gaze at the whole image. Take your time and look at every part of the photograph. See it all. Reflect on the image for a minute or so.
  4. Consider the following questions:
    • What emotions does this image evoke in you?
    • What does the image stir up in you, bring forth in you?
    • Does this image lead you into an attitude of prayer? If so, let these prayers take form in you. Write them down if you desire.
  5. Now, offer your prayers to God in a final time of silence.

As we are in the season of ordinary time, try vision divinia using an image depicting Christ in the desert.

Ivan Kramskoi (1837-1887), “Christ in the Desert.” Image source: WIkimedia Commons

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Here are three suggestions if you would like to continue this Spiritual Practice:

  1. When you look at Instagram, choose an image for Visio Divinia
  2. Pick a piece of art from your host country
  3. Use this meditation for Rest on the Flight to Egypt

Had you heard of Visio Divina? How was trying Visio Divina with the picture of Christ? What did God reveal to you through this practice?

24 Comments

  1. Elizabeth March 16, 2016

    At our sending church there’s an artist, and each time he gets up to do a communion meditation, he shows a piece of art and talks a little about it and its history before thanking God for the elements. Everyone always appreciates his communion talks, especially people who don’t connect with God as much in the “traditional” lingual sense.

    Even though I myself am a words person, I do love religious art. It touches something deep in me. The medieval art section at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City is my absolute favorite part of the entire (enormous) building! I could sit on that stone bench in the middle of the room and gaze at the art forever. I know it doesn’t have proper scientific perspective and proportions, but there’s something magical and mystical about art that’s entirely devoted to God.

    And in response to today’s piece, it’s Jesus’ face that caught my attention right away. Not Peter, but Jesus. And just this morning I had been feeling so sorry for myself that I am still a sinner, how tired I am of being a sinner and of having to fight sin and all that, blah blah blah, when all along maybe it was Jesus’ face I was supposed to be looking at, not my own.

    1. Amy Young March 18, 2016

      I love that your church is so intentional about incorporating art! Just think what a difference it would make if this were true for all of us.

      And I love how the HS directs each of us to what we need in that moment. The face of Jesus is a good word for us all.

  2. Bayta March 17, 2016

    I love this! I’ve been known to go into one of the art galleries in town (no shortage of those on Berlin!), find a picture that draws me in and then journal on it. I do love words but there is also something very special about trying an approach that is so different. Can’t wait to give it a go!

    1. Amy Young March 18, 2016

      :). I love picturing you (and others) in art galleries!

  3. Jenilee March 17, 2016

    I definitely saw the woman first. I saw her emotions and her hesitation. I was drawn to her… I’ll need to break that down a little and see what that means to me right now, in this season.

    1. Amy Young March 18, 2016

      I’ve said this on other comments, but I am loving reading where the HS directs people to look! Now, I see that woman. I hadn’t even noticed her. Thanks for sharing, Jenilee!

  4. Aliyah March 17, 2016

    Wow, this is an amazing post. I started an art class two years ago and at times have felt like the odd – ball! I paint pictures God gives me in my heart – messages, while everyone else just paints flowers or still life. But I have to paint what He shows me inside, even if its just colours. I have never heard of this practice before, but now I am sure going to change my perspective, thank you so much. When I looked at the picture, the first thing I saw was Peter’s hand. There is something soft, and deep about his hand, the shadow that falls from it. For me I felt he is reaching out, open palmed, to His Saviour. It’s a hand reaching from a place of brokenness. This is where I am at in my life, a deep reaching out and Yeshua’s deep love reaching in to those places that cannot be explained. I received so much from this. THank you so much Aliyah

    1. Amy Young March 18, 2016

      Aliyah, I realize your art may be very private and respect that! But if any of it is up for public sharing, could you take a picture and share it? Do you see the “choose file” option? That’s how people can share pictures :).

      And I love how when someone points out what God has drawn them to, it’s so different. That hand. Yes. I see it now too.

      1. Aliyah March 18, 2016

        Hey AMy – absolutely, I would love to! I shared a pic on the Grove post this week. I will see if I have another – sadly, my camera is not so good, so it comes out hazy boo! But thanks for asking! I realised through this post – where my heart actually is with regards to painting. I would love to be able to share my pictures  with broken women, giving them away to organisations who could put it up and just inspire hope and a reminder of what it is all for. That’s what I would love to do. Who knows! I attached one called The Warrior – I recently saw this for my own life, having to go through some real battles but this reality of being a soldier in Gods army! Hope you like it!

        1. Amy Young March 21, 2016

          Thank you! I do . . . Wow, the amount of detail in her outfit is spectacular. Your rendition of her is regal, strong, and yet very approachable.

        2. Ellie March 22, 2016

          Thanks for sharing Aliyah! I’m with Amy, the clothing speaks to me – the colour is important and the feminine nature of the metal clasps – this is a woman being a warrior in her being, not being conformed to any outward image being placed on her.

  5. Spring March 17, 2016

    I have tried Lectio Divina before as part of a group. I love the idea of using art in this way to pray. was trying it this morning but got interrupted multiple times by my 5 year old

     

    1. Amy Young March 18, 2016

      Ah, those sweet 5 year-olds! I wonder if you could ask him or her what they notice in the picture? I’d be curious to know what the Spirit draws them to 🙂

  6. Amy Young March 18, 2016

    My eyes were drawn to the roosters. They seem so completely unaware (um, because they are animals!) to what is going on and to the role they play. I’m now wondering if God is showing me how I sometimes focus on things that are not central to the story that is going on.

  7. Ellie March 22, 2016

    Just got to this today because I haven’t had time to just “sit” and wanted to have time to reflect. Such an amazing activity, thank you.

    I focussed on how old Peter looked and how tired/weary and sad.. Yep, there might be something in there..!

    Amy, I was thinking “there’s more than one rooster?” when I read your comment – because I saw one rooster and three doves and wondered about the significance of three doves – whether that was three times “peace” ready to be given for his denial. Like you say, funny what jumps out to us. (Not trying to critique your bird naming skills! ;))

    I was also a bit annoyed at how blonde Jesus was and the Roman soliders too! Not realistic for the time.. Ha! What does that say I wonder? Annoyed about “Western-centric” narrow teachings not encompassing the worldwide church? Food for thought, definitely. Could get carried away here! 😉

    1. Amy Young March 22, 2016

      Hahaha 🙂 . . . now I need to go and look again. Most likely you are right :)! My animal naming skills in general are TERRIBLE after you get past the obvious ones. So glad this was of value to you. Ah, Peter looking old and tired. Need to think on that one too!

  8. Ellie March 22, 2016

    Oh, according to the internet that should be blond without an “e” for masculine.. note to self..!

  9. Aliyah March 22, 2016

    Ellie, thank you so much! wow I just love what you shared about the picture and what you see in it – I love that reality being a warrior within and not conforming – halleluYah! Amen, that’s what it’s all about, excited! May you have a wonderful week and I totally agree with you on the blond Jesus thing, I don’t like how they do this in films and in general, middle eastern men DO not look like this, definitely a Hebrew Israeli man would not have looked so very European or westernised. Blessings Aliyah

  10. Ruth January 19, 2017

    Okay, after reading the comments I’m really confused. I have a picture of Christ in the desert… What is the one with Peter and the roosters and all??

    Anyway, I love the picture of Jesus in the desert and it was perfect for me to reflect on today. I have been thinking about this as being a desert season for me, and I feel so dry and weary. When I saw this picture I immediately got tears in my eyes, seeing Jesus looking so weary. I thought, “Oh, he was weary too! He was brought to a place of isolation and physical weakness and then harassed by the devil, and it was hard for him. Oh, he understands.” Of course I *know* he understands, but seeing the emotion portrayed in painting makes it so real.

    I was introduced to visio divina in college when our art professor lead a women’s retreat. I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but I think it would be a great practice. I’m so visual, and while I also love words, images stick with me and often speak to my heart without so much mind interference, if that makes sense. It goes beyond what I just know in my head.

    1. Amanda January 19, 2017

      I’m looking at Jesus in the desert too and for the first time I’m thinking about how physically and mentally difficult it must have been to fast for that long all alone, without anything going on. Just HIM, GOD and the desert. No work to busy him and make time go faster. No people to encourage him. Before I’d always thought of it as easier as if he were super-human but the picture reminds me he was just a human with a super-relationship with God. Time still crawled. His ears probably missed the sounds of people talking and going about their day. The physical weakness was real. Could he have gotten lonely with a perfect God relationship? I’d never considered it before but maybe. He was human after all.

      1. Amy Young January 19, 2017

        Amanda, thank you for fleshing out (no pun intended) Jesus’ physicalness all the more. I hadn’t thought about how little there was to hear or how the time probably dragged. I”m going to come back and medicate some more. Appreciate your thoughts.

    2. Amy Young January 19, 2017

      Ruth, sorry for the confusion! The first time we used parts of this post it was with an image of Peter as he betrayed Christ. I’ll see if I can add it to the comments. (Or I”ll just add it to the borrow of the post so it’s not so confusing!). When I medidated on this picture, I had a similar thought about the emotions represented. Seeing the look on Jesus’ face, his slightly hunched back, and the hands . . . like you, I thought, “oh you get my weariness.”

      Glad we can practice this together . . . apart 🙂

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