Our church staff did an exercise called visio divina yesterday. I borrowed and adapted this idea from my friend Dan Wilburn who has been experimenting with it lately. We all know of lectio divina or “divine reading” of the scripture. The visio is about a divine viewing. It’s based around the idea that this is a God-bathed world and that God is lurking everywhere, always ready to show up and teach us something about ourselves, God’s self, or the world around us. Even with great exercises like lectio in our routines or rule of life we can still get a little lazy in terms of how engaged we are in listening to the voice of God. It’s sort of old hat to say that God speaks to us through scriptures. Of course God speaks through scriptures. But is that the only way God speaks? How would we know? We aren’t really skilled at listening any other way. This is another way – a sort of via artis – which we all found extremely fruitful yesterday.
Artists (poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, etc.) are some of the most gifted people in the world at provoking us to see fresh new manifestations of God’s power and grace. We went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum here in town, a world class art gallery, to allow some of the world’s greatest artist to provoke and preach to us. Here’s how it works:
antea-visio: wandering the gallery.
We each spent a good hour just walking around and viewing incredible works of art. We were listening to our inner voice, primed to be very aware of what works we felt a strong personal response to. What piece of art could we spend a good hour or so looking at, expecting God to speak to us? So we wandered until we had a sense that we should stop and focus on one piece. Once the piece for the exercise is chosen, we began.
visio …10 min.
What sticks out to you? Get up close to it and look at it carefully. Explore the work with your eyes. Consider the color, character, movement, mood, style, etc. View it from every angle. Then find a comfortable place to sit in the gallery where you can directly view the piece and be seated.
Pray for a few moments and prepare your heart to meditate and commune with God. The rest of the exercise will be spent in prayer. Everything you do, think, write, draw, feel…let it all be prayer. Take several minutes. Allow yourself to slow down, enjoy this time. God is here…you can do this.
Fix your gaze upon the art and linger there. If you feel your mind or eyes wandering, don’t judge yourself, simply return to focusing on the image. Let your eyes linger on the image, persist there and listen to your inner voice, listen for GOD speaking to you.
Oratio …30 min.
As you gaze upon the work of art, begin to ask yourself a few questions. How do I feel? What am I hearing? What am I seeing? Where is GOD at work in this space? What is GOD saying to me? What is the condition of my soul? How am I interacting with what I’m seeing? Am I open?
Slow your mind by writing down your thoughts. This is simply between you and GOD, this is prayer. Feel free to sketch or doodle. If you don’t know where to start simply begin by writing: “Oh God, in this moment…” Journal, draw, listen to the room, listen to your thoughts, continue to view the piece and contemplate it. Allow God to speak to you and record it on the page. Allow yourself to be surprised by GOD’S presence. Break away from your normal prayer routine & engage with GOD in a new way.
Contemplatio …10 min.
Remain in prayer as you continue to meditate, listen, draw and write.
praeter-visio: gather and discuss.
We went to the gallery café and grabbed some lunch. Sitting there in Roselle Court, a beautiful Italian renaissance courtyard four-stories tall with cut stone columns, fountains, and the sun bleeding through the skylights, we shared our stories of what we heard. We laughed and cried a little as we talked about the strong sense of the presence and voice of God to us. It was remarkable. After lunch and sharing we walked around again to see each person’s place for the exercise and to view the artwork they focused on. It gave everyone another chance to share just a little bit about what they were seeing and hearing from God.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this exercise. If you want to try it, fire me an email and I’ll send you the booklet I created to walk people through it.