Visio Divina – Praying with Art

The Last Supper - John August Swanson

The Last Supper – John August Swanson www.johnaugustswanson.com

Praying with Art or Visio Divina as it is increasingly called is a form of prayer that is becoming increasingly popular and in a world that is as visually oriented as ours, an intentional way of praying with images is needed now more than ever.  After reading yesterday’s post, my friend Tom Cashman commented:

In my Spiritual Formation classes over the last 2-3 years, in addition to more traditional Lection Divina I’ve also been using forms of Visio Divina.  This isn’t new, beginning with Benedict in the 6th century is floweried with the Orthodox iconographers.

Tom’s words sent me on a google search for more information on a form of prayer that I honestly know little about, even though I have often used religious art as a focus for meditation.

I found this article by Tom Mooney particularly helpful and love the images from John August Swanson, an artist that I have not encountered before but whose images drew me into a wonderful rich and refreshing encounter with the gospel stories.  Mooney explains:

Visio Divina (Latin for “divine seeing”) is a method for praying with images or other media. While the Orthodox tradition has long practiced praying with images through icons, the western church, and Protestantism in particular, is less comfortable with this type of prayer. But as a cursory glance through scripture will show, images have been an important part of God’s way of communicating. Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, and Peter’s dream on the rooftop in Acts 10, are just two instances of how images and prayer are vitally connected.  Read the entire article

I also discovered this excellent resource for Bible study: Seeing the Word: Picture the Beauty of God’s Word, developed by Saint John’s School of Theology Seminary and Liturgical Press.  Seeing the Word offers guided reflections  on particular Scripture texts, using images from the acclaimed The Saint John’s Bible,

This video is a useful tool that helps to explain the process of Visio Divina

This Bible that reminds me of the Book of Kells and other illuminated gospels which are another wonderful tool for Visio Divina.

Book of Kells images

Illumination from the Book of Kells

One book I have read recently that delves into Vision Divina in a very helpful way is Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer by Juliet Benner.  She very instructively combines the knowledge of a trained artist with that of a spiritual director to show people how to meditate on art that depicts passages of scripture.

Another great tool for this form of prayer is the use of Christian images from different cultures.  I first wrote about this some years ago in a blog post entitled Imaging Jesus and even produced a youtube video to go with it.  One of my earliest so it is a little funky now but I still thought that you might enjoy it.

This is obviously a small beginning in exploring this form of prayer.  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.