“There are times when music and other forms of art become vital because words alone won’t suffice. This is one of them.”
–Parker J. Palmer
I love words—to write them and to read them (shared in In Praise of Words and Less Words)—but during the past few weeks, I have found my thoughts turn to words that spiral into feelings of fear, anxiety, and worry. It is one of those times when I need to listen deeply with the “ear of the heart,” according to St. Benedict, for good words, or no words, to replace that which is not edifying.
God is the Great Artist.
Art is incarnational, and the arts have long been celebrated by Christian tradition as a way of encountering Christ. Visio Divina is like Lectio Divina, but instead of using the words from a page of Scripture to pray with, you use an icon, a sacred image, a work of art, or even a sunrise, a sunset, the flash of an oriole, the flight of a red-tailed hawk. (St. Benedict Center, Praying with the Arts)
I invite you to practice Visio Divina with one of my favorite pieces of art at St. Benedict Center, a wood carving of the Makonde clan of Tanzania, east Africa. I have taken dozens of photos and contemplated its meaning from many angles and directions over the years. Only recently did I ask Fr. Thomas, administrator at the Center, if he knew the story behind it. He shared that it is titled “Democracy.” He described that in the traditional Makonde clan when something important had to be discussed, the elder calls the extended family together. After the matter is discussed and everyone has had the opportunity to speak, the elder makes known the decision. The artist is saying, somewhat humorously, in a democracy everybody can speak but are those speakers really listening to one another?
Practice Visio Divina
Relax and come to a quiet before the photos of “Democracy.”
Read the work of art. Listen with the “ear of your heart.” Explore it. Does it remind you of a passage from Scripture or The Rule of St. Benedict?
What is the story being told? Notice colors, shapes, textures, shades, symbols, posture, expressions. How do they work together to tell the story?
Meditate on what is being said. Does any part of the art attract you, or cause you to feel consolation?
Allow it to fill your imagination and touch your memory. Does any part cause uneasiness or desolation? Allow it to prod your imagination, touch your memory, and move your conscience.
Breathe quietly, peacefully before the Divine. Pray for insight. Ask the Great Artist to enlighten you about the feelings that have come up.
What is God calling you to do? Is God calling you to refrain from anything?
Rest quietly in the Lord. This is contemplation. Simply be with God. Pray as you bring your Visio Divina to a close. Discuss with God what has been revealed to you. Thank the Great Artist for the blessings and enlightenment received.
Praying with the Arts at St. Benedict Center website has many pieces of art to contemplate here.
Consider also practicing SoulCollage®, a creative, prayerful act of creating collage that can be helpful to process difficult emotions. Creating sanctuary, the theme of the newly titled Not Just For Advent Retreat might be helpful during this time of sheltering in place. Creating sanctuary is a spiritual practice, the white lines on the side of the road that can help us on the journey in front of us.
Please share in the comments or email what the practice of Visio Divina was like for you. I would love to hear what you learned about yourself and God by contemplating “Democracy.”
Prayers for this challenging time for space and grace, Jodi