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Visio Divina

Photo courtesy of SSJD

Since we are all different, it can be helpful to provide different ways to respond to God in prayer: through Scripture, through images, through music, etc. It can benefit all of us to experiment with different ways to pray, as we engage God through our different senses.

Visio Divina — “sacred seeing” — is an ancient form of Christian prayer in which we allow our hearts and imaginations to enter into a sacred image, in silence, to see what God might have to say to us. Visio Divina is a prayer practice similar to Lectio Divina, only the object for meditation is not God’s Word but an image or a picture. The goal is to encounter God’s presence in what we see, rather than what we read.

Like Lectio Divina, there is a pattern that is helpful to follow when using Visio Divine, a practice that is similar, while it focuses on seeing rather than reading. It is a way of capturing our imagination and inspiring our lives while drawing us closer into the hands of God. It is the slow, thoughtful contemplation of a picture, photo, work of art, or really anything visual that invites God to speak to us in a deeper way.

Before you begin, take time to centre yourself in God’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, to help you see what God wants you to see. 

  1. Spend some time on your initial observation of the image. Observe the colours, lines, textures, shapes, and figures. What feelings or thoughts does it evoke in you? Spend some time just experiencing your reaction to the image.
  2. Take time to observe the image a second time. Explore more fully your reactions. Consider how God might be speaking to you through the picture. Why is it evoking a reaction? Could God be trying to say something to you through that reaction? Take time to reflect on your reactions in God’s presence. Is God saying something to you about God, about yourself, about your life as a follower of Jesus?
  3. As with the practice of Lectio Divina, end your time simply resting in and enjoying God’s presence.

ART, PHOTGRAPHS, ICONS: Visio Divina, sacred seeing, is an ancient form of prayer that continues to be a powerful method of meditation. Art becomes the sacrament that opens our hearts to the indwelling Spirit of God. The visible makes the invisible present in a palpable way. Any piece of art can be the subject of reflection. It is not necessary for it to be religious art; however, reflecting on icons has been practiced since ancient times.

USING A CAMERA, A WALK THROUGH A GARDEN OR FOREST: perhaps using a camera while walking through a garden or forest, or just out on a walk around a park or local favourite area, something will catch your attention as you have intentionally set aside this time for sacred seeing. Outward and visible signs can become inward and spiritual blessings:  all of life is sacramental, and Visio Divina can be a very special way of opening up this contemplative form of blessing for you in prayer.

How is God speaking to you? Why do you think God drew your attention to this particular object? Is a message conveyed that pertains to your life today? Do you sense an invitation? Do you hear a call? Is a memory aroused? Allow these thoughts to descend to your heart. What emotion is evoked? What word describes your inner stirring as you embrace this feeling? Allow God’s communication to touch you deep within where the Spirit dwells.

Visio Divina sets our interior stage for placing ourselves in the hands of God, where intimate communion is possible. It has a way of encouraging the practice of viewing all of life through a sacred lens uncovering the messages hidden within creation. All of life then becomes hallowed ground. It is an opportunity to settle in, become quiet, become centered, watching, aware, waiting, waiting ready for a sense of being invited to be a participant in what is going on in the image, the picture, the surroundings while at the same time becoming aware of what’s happening within oneself as well.

This form of prayer has gifts to offer: patience to wait and watch, mindfulness and curiosity, stillness and a sense of being a participant, not just a bystander, of being in the song and the prayer itself. It moves us into mystery, into gratitude and beauty, into resilience and harshness. And into the hands of God – into prayer.