Visio Divina: Visual Prayer
by Allie Shoulders, Director of Adult Discipleship
Many wonderful books have been written about prayer. Good formulas have been created to guide and focus prayer such as ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication). Pastors, church mothers/fathers and gifted teachers, past and present, seem to always find the perfect words to use for corporate prayer. Yet it is also true that the simplest prayers of only a few words or even moans in times of crisis are heard and precious to God. Books, formulas and examples are to be taken as tools and encouragement but not as rules. Prayer is about talking to a dear friend, and allowing that friend to shape, mold and change our heart and character. Prayers bring us to the throne of Grace. Prayers our are deepest thoughts expressed to God, who is as close as our breath and can provide an opportunity for us to listen for the still small voice.
Several years ago Spiritual Director Linda Albert presented a workshop at First Presbyterian titled, “Who You Are is How You Pray.” She encouraged the class to experiment with different types of prayer such as intercession, breath prayers, centering prayer, imaginative prayer, even styles of prayer that do not seem natural or our first choice. Most people given their unique personalities have a style that they naturally gravitate toward. We were encouraged embrace that style but be open to new ways as well. Collectively we are living in uncertain times and many assumptions are being challenged. I believe the stress that is inherent can be an invitation to examine how we pray as well. In isolation I have had some days where it has been hard to concentrate and my mind wanders during more formal prayer.
Engaging my senses, in this case sight, has been powerful. Visio Divina (divine seeing) has much in common with Lectio Divina (divine reading). Lectio Divina uses four steps in four careful readings of a particular scripture passage: read it the first time, in the second reading be open to a word or phrase that may stand out, in the third reading pray about what this passage saying to you right now; and in the fourth reading contemplate and think more about the passage. Visio Divina is much the same but perhaps a bit more fluid, at least the way that works best for me. Visio Divina is looking at an image, it could be a sacred or other beautiful painting found on a museum website or a photograph, but it could also be an actual item from nature such as a delicate flower bloom, a hummingbird or in the crystals and mineral veins of a rock. Look at it slowly, taking in all the details. In the process allow your mind to acknowledge God’s handprint in the painting, photograph or natural item, list the ways it glorifies him, be aware of scripture that comes to mind and if none comes to mind grab a concordance find a passage, consider how it makes you grateful, name what that surprises you, notice any feelings or emotions that arise, voice any questions that arise and be open to how might it call you to action. Then ask God what you may have missed.
The picture above was taken from our cabin on an overnight excursion in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam on my first visit the country in 2005. Even though I saw this with my own eyes, it still catches my breath and I see God in all the details…you may wish to have a journal nearby in case you wish to record some thoughts…begin by breathing in and out, in and out…
Thank you God for your creation and the many ways it declares your glory. Thank you for travel and my 4 trips to Vietnam in the last 5 years, for the people I have met and experiences I have had on these trips. I look forward to the day when we can all have the opportunity to travel again. Thank you that I got to see this amazing bay that is filled with thousands of limestone outcroppings and isles - What a surprising world God has created and I think of God asking Job where was he when “I laid the earth’s foundation.” I am reminded of the slight woman who rowed a small boat that allowed 6 tourists from the cruise ship, all bigger than she, to see the rock formations up close. Ha Long Bay is literally her backyard, I pray that she is well and that someday she too gets to see amazing sights in other places in the world. My son, daughter in law and little grandson live less than three hours away in Hanoi, I am grateful for technology that allows me to stay connected to them in isolation. Vietnam has reported few cases of Covid and I pray for this country’s continued low numbers of cases, for a vaccine for us all and for a friend who was exposed the virus and is now awaiting test results. For those who have lost jobs due to the virus, for all parents now homeschooling and those that are lonely. The food in Vietnam is amazing. I am grateful for fresh, creatively prepared food. And for the beautiful tomatoes that are on the vine in my backyard right now. Also, I think of those that may not have enough to eat today. What can I do or how can I share? Vietnam is a country of many religions - I pray for ways to make connections if I get to return to Vietnam one day and share my hope. Or those in Santa Rosa who were raised in other faith traditions, may I humbly find soft places for deeper conversation. I see so much detail, the deck outside our room, the way the shadows play on the surface of the rocks, clouds in the sky. After an injury to my right eye several months ago, I am grateful to see today. Thank you for healing and I pray for my friend fighting cancer. Coming back to the limestone outcroppings, for centuries people have looked at them and I remember these wonders were spoken into being by God, the same God who is inviting me into relationship with him! What more can I see in the picture and what do I need to be reminded of as I move through the day.
Henri Nouwen’s writings introduced me to Visio Divina: https://beingbenedictine.com/ 2020/07/15/the-prodigal-son-where-art-and-beauty-run-rampant/
For online art, Web Gallery of Art: https://www.wga.hu/index1.html