Visio Divina (Praying with Images)

Visio divina is praying with images such as paintings, photographs, drawings, icons, or sculptures. A picture may indeed be “worth a thousand words.” God has often used visual images to communicate truth. Both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles had visions and dreams. The psalmists  harvested metaphors from what they had observed in nature. Yahweh commanded the Israelites to carve and weave images of cherubim for the cover of the ark of atonement and for the tabernacle curtains.

Though early Christians prohibited graven images of God the Father, they painted and carved Old Testament stories and representations of God the Son, particularly in the catacombs. After Christianity was legalized, Christian art became useful for teaching an illiterate population. Stained glass windows, mosaics, carvings and even the architecture of cathedrals proclaimed the biblical story and aided in worship.

In the Bible, poetry, music, dance, story-telling, and art are all used in worship because all touch and transform the deep, inarticulate places in human hearts. Visio divina encourages a return to one of these earlier forms of learning and worship. In addition, visio divina may be a corrective to the influence of our culture’s increasingly shallow, fast-paced visual orientation.

Pausing to see more deeply, with the eyes of our hearts, trains us to be more attentive to the presence and work of God below the surface of our lives. We begin to block out distractions and sharpen the focus of all our senses toward God and His work—in Creation, in others, in events, and in ourselves.

The method of visio divina, in brief:

Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by inviting God’s Spirit to speak to you. Setting an alarm may help you “ignore” time constraints.

Meditate on the image. Notice what is dominant, possibly the first thing that catches your eye. Keep your eyes there. What do you notice? What moves you? Ponder your emotional response. Then allow your eyes to wander around the image. Notice color, shape, contrast, overall impressions. Be gentle and open, both with yourself and the image.

Pray about your meditation. Talk to God directly and take time to listen. How does the Spirit connect this image to your life? To God and His Word? As you gaze on this image, is God in some way gazing at you? Are you moved to amazement, silence, rest, repentance, gratefulness, action, confession, adoration, or dance? What invitations might God have for you? Consider journaling your prayer response.

Surrender again to God and rest with thankfulness in His loving presence with you.

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