Updated: Nov 29, 2018
“Beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses."
– Dallas Willard
Most of us who are part of a Protestant church tradition are not trained to engage all our senses as a regular part of our prayer and worship. However, when we allow the arts, senses, imagination, and physical movement to be at the service of our spiritual lives we come to enjoy new rich ways of being with God.
There is no doubt that God wants to speak to us through all our senses. He created an incredibly detailed and beautiful world, and gave us bodies to taste, smell, see, feel and hear all that surrounds us. What amazing gifts and abundance of possibilities our senses offer us to know and interact with God, express ourselves, and co-create with God! When we open our minds to the possibility that God wants to meet us in and through all things, there is no limit to what we can expect God to show us through our imaginations, senses, and creativity.
Communication and Images
Joseph Campbell wrote, “The soul thinks in images.” Often times our interior lives and experience of God in prayer are so complex or mysterious that words and rational explanations simply fall short to express them. When we are not able to articulate the experiences of our lives in words the use of images offer a medium for us to express those soul’s movements that are simply too deep for words.
God is not limited to words in his communication towards us either. God revealed himself to us through the physical, embodied life of Jesus. Jesus showed us what the kingdom of God is like through parables and metaphors that related to concrete events and objects that could be visualized. It is a wonderful gift and grace to receive God’s communication and self-revelation to us through images.
Visio Divina, ‘holy seeing’, is a way to pray with the eyes. Through this prayer practice we seek to see what God sees in the image and what he wants to show us through it.
1. Pick out an image from a website, a photograph, painting, icon, sculpture, or an artifact that you feel drawn to.
2. Become aware of God and his loving gaze on you. Set aside things that occupy your mind and heart. Offer a short prayer of openness and desire to be with God. Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you.
3. Seek to see what God sees in the image. Allow yourself to be immersed in the image.
4. Observe your reactions, and what stirs in you; memories, emotions, likes, dislikes, curiosity, wonder, questions, and insights. Do not rush.
5. Respond to God about what you saw and sensed during the gazing at the image. As you do this, talk to God openly as to a trusted friend, and seek to hear what he wants to say to you. Finally, you might wish to write down some of your experience of the prayer.
What is your experience of allowing your senses to serve your life of prayer? What are some examples of this? (E.g. use of prayer beads, singing, playing or drawing your prayers.)
What colors, shapes, and patterns spark hope and joy in you?
What sounds, images or sensations describe your current spiritual journey?
What spaces draw you to prayer and worship? What about those environments help you to experience the Holy?
What could you do this coming week to be present to God more holistically, engaging prayer through senses that you tend to neglect as channels of communication?
Take a walk in a park, garden, forest, zoo, art gallery, or anywhere else where you find beauty. Notice where you see beauty and ask God to speak to you through that. Ask God to help you see what you see through the eyes of the Creator’s love.
Do something with your hands (play an instrument, knit, paint, cook) that you enjoy while you pray. What does this action and movement tell you about the way God created you? How can movement nurture your life with God?
Create a prayer space in your home. Include artifacts that draw you to stillness, awe, and communion with God. (Flowers, candles, images, photos, cross etc.)
Picturing the Face of Jesus: Encountering Christ through Art By Beth Booram Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit by Henri Nouwen
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun