Introductory Note:

Vivianne David provides a way for us to re-learn the childlike ability to listen to a picture. Jesus sometimes invited his followers to ponder God’s truth revealed visually: “Consider the lilies of the field,” for example (Mt 6:28). We might need some help knowing how to look at nature or at artwork in this receptive way, letting God give us a special reminder of his presence or feed us with his truth. Vivianne’s guidance below can usher you gently into this practice. 

The artwork Vivianne selected for us is Hidden Life in Nazareth, by Ukrainian artist Ivanka Demchuk. You can also recycle the guidelines from this exercise with other works of art or with anything that catches your eye—a chipmunk, a seashell, the embers of a fire. I hope you’ll enjoy stretching into this potentially less familiar way of prayer.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

It takes great courage to put aside words and let images talk to us. Visio divina is the practice of letting God tell a story to our soul by reading” us a picture book. As fun and simple as this may seem, we have fallen out of the practice of learning to gaze upon something and let it shape us. Bypassing our intellectual or academic center, and letting our imagining, visualizing center be the recipient of a story can be an entirely new and bewildering process. Rest assured, God is the Master Storyteller, the author of all good stories; approaching art with the guidance of Holy Spirit is an enlivening and restorative adventure. So sit back in the arms of God and let Him tell you a story!

A Guided Visio Divina Practice

I invite you to consider yourself as the small child you once were — and still are. An illiterate child, unable to make sense of the hieroglyphics of typed letters on the page. As a child, someone read words to you, but they were a faint murmuring in the distance, a muffled soundtrack for the real work that was happening: your eyes were gazing. The beauty of a child’s gaze holds the ability to stay with an image, letting it fill the landscape of their mind, stretching it for greater glory.

One: Opening to God

Let’s start by praying a simple prayer before we embark on this journey of gazing together:

Oh God, to whom all hearts are open, and all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…“
Open our hearts to see you, our desires to receive you, our being to host you.
Come be the center of my attention.
Teach my gaze to rest gently on you as I notice your gaze resting on me.

Take a moment to recall the words of Psalm 16:8,

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Notice the inner movement of your attention; keep turning it gently back to the Lord, letting the Psalm help you focus until you can release it and keep your eyes on God.

Two: Gazing with God

Allow yourself to sit with God, and turn your attention towards the artwork, gazing at it together with Holy Spirit, and inviting His presence to shine light on your path.

Gazing at the art, it might be helpful to take the posture of stargazing: you are scanning the sky, looking for something to pop out and catch your attention. Don’t try to analyze it or think too deeply about the ideas presented in the art. Simply allow yourself to take in the image and see what sparkles for you. Expectantly take in the details of the art, as well as the overview of the scene. Do you notice a detail of the image, or a theme or idea popping up?

Without forcing anything, simply stay with the image. Patiently turn your attention back as often as it wanders, as a parent with a child.

Hidden Life in Nazareth
Hidden Life in Nazareth, by Ivanka Demchuk

Three: Noticing and Listening

When you sense something capturing your attention, consider it a prompt from God. Lean into that invitation:

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10)

Watch and wait, trust and expect. 

How do you sense Father speaking to you through the detail you’ve noticed?

Stay with the noticing; there’s no rush to respond immediately to the Word of God spoken through this process. Let His word sit with you, soak into you. Let yourself be a sponge, absorbing the drops of His presence. 

Four: Overflowing, Resting

When you feel soaked full of His company, see what response overflows from your heart. 

There may be words, or not. You may notice a movement within yourself of worship, or an image that shapes in your imagination. Turn all this ever so gently towards God. Think of the light of His face shining on you. Let His gaze capture your attention. 

Wait. Do you notice a response from the Lord? Watch and wait in this space of receptivity.

Let His loving presence lead your soul to a quiet place where you can rest in the Word He has spoken to you. (Psalm 23)

Five: Returning

Slowly return to the sights and sounds of the space around you. 

Recall again the words of Psalm 16:8,

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Carry this sense of God’s constant nearness and loving gaze with you as you move into the regular rhythms of your day.

As we learn to gaze upon beauty with our attention expectantly, we will notice our inner child’s attention being more and more enthralled with the beauty of the Lord, able to stay with the art and enter into it more fully each time we practice sitting in the company of the Master Storyteller.

Image credit: Hidden Life in Nazareth by Ivanka Demchuk, represented by IconArt Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine. Find Ivanka on Instagram here.

Text First Published February 2023 · Last Featured on February 2023