Praying through Art? I’d heard of different ways people do this, but my own experience did not include “Visio Divina.” That is, until last month!
Have you ever heard of Lectio Divina? We recently discovered that awesomeness. But Visio Divina is not using your ears, but your eyes. To look at art. And experience God. How cool is that!
My friend Connie is a gentle, talented painter whose art is filled with wonder and depth. Connie explained how she planned to bring us through the process of Visio Divina (Latin for “divine seeing”) at our next Envision gathering, and what a treat we had in store: Our guests would choose an art print from a pile, then Connie would invite us to pray inwardly while looking at the print, relaxing into listening prayer, and waiting for any impressions or phrases that might come to us from the Lord. Connie had prepared a series of gentle questions that she would read aloud as we spent time with God, looking.
Finally– Envision Night in the VineArts Studio! About 25 artists were cozied up on couches and chairs, some on the floor. (We all come from different churches and backgrounds, with some artists new to worship or on the fence about Christianity.) We opened with intimate songs of worship to Jesus.
After worship, a warm welcome and a brief reading of our “code of grace,” which reminds us: This venue is not to highlight religious differences, only for appreciating, sharing, enriching, and encouraging through Christ who unites us.
I approached the mic holding a book written by a friend. I’m on Sherri’s Envision team, so I often emcee. But before we were to experience Visio Divina, I felt that I needed to address why God pours so much power into art… What does it mean when we say art is transcendent? Does God actually care about art? Does God use the art of people not living from a place of holiness and integrity? So I read excerpts from Imagine That by Manuel Luz, beginning with his Mickey Mouse story. (If you want a theology of the arts through down-to-earth story telling, get Manuel’s book here!)
The time for Visio Divina had come… Oops! Except our planning team had forgotten to bring art prints for our guests. That’s okay; Connie invited everyone to focus on the work of our Boise artists whose work completely covers the walls of the VineArts studio, which turned out to be so much more powerful than looking at a little print! “Allow your eyes to rest on one artwork. Don’t judge anything about it; simply see it.” She began, in her quiet voice, to lead us to the feet of Jesus through this prayer and listening process.
People entered deeply, earth-shatteringly, into God while contemplating the single artwork they had chosen (or rather, the art God had chosen for them). The room was stunned and people sat wrecked, inspired, overjoyed, in the silence of the studio.
After Connie’s talk was over, I took the mic again to speak about partnering with God in your own artmaking process. I read from another friend of mine, J. Scott McElroy, in his excellent book Finding Divine Inspiration (you can get Scott’s book here) and we asked the Lord for a specific word or something personal for each artist to write down for their own journey. I ended by reading Scott’s beautiful prayer for creativity.
Then I invited the artists to share what God had shown them during Visio Divina. Honestly I figured nobody would speak because of how intensely personal their experiences had obviously been.
But one artist spoke up, then another, and another. Eleven artists gave heartfelt testimonies about what God had shown them through the image they studied. Suddenly I found it difficult to stay balanced on my bar stool at the microphone stand…
…especially when someone talked about what they’d experienced inside my artwork, not knowing that I had created it. I wanted to fall over backwards. I wanted to cry, holler, dance, and give God a high-5. But I gripped the mic and listened to all these artists giving God the immense glory He is due.
Driving home, I realized my hand was covering my mouth as if I were in shock. My body felt like a guitar string plucked three hours before and still buzzing.
My friends, that evening was the most profound art ministry I’ve experienced since my journey began nine years ago.
Thank you Jesus… and dare I ask…