“Creation speaks. It speaks elegantly. It “pours forth speech” of God. God ambushes people on riverbanks, mountaintops, in wilderness wasteland, whirlwinds, burning bushes and rushing winds. The house of God stretches from the view out my window to the edge of the universe and beyond. All we have to do to see it, suggests Barbara Brown Taylor in An Alter in the World, is to set a little altar in our heart where we reverence the handwork of the Creator. ” – From the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
My first introduction to Visio Divina as a practice with an actual name must have been when I picked up the book the above quote is from. The Spiritual Disciplines handbook was a book as part of my second yoga teacher training– a 300-hour masters program. As someone whose world was expanding beyond the confines of the church basics of what spiritual disciplines are and what your ‘quiet time with Jesus’ was supposed to look like, flipping through the pages of this book felt like jumping into a cool pool on a hot summer’s day– inviting, refreshing and, to be honest, a wave of relief. As it turns out, the truth we feel stirring inside of us that makes us feel connected to God through our passions, interests, and other unique ways isn’t by mistake, a fluke, or something to deny. It’s something to lean into and explore.
As I followed the prompts through the opening pages of the book, I found myself on the pages describing Visio Divina.
My favourite passage in scripture felt like a beacon on the top of the page,
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars you have set in place.”
– Psalm 8:3
As I read through the practice the thoughts, ‘I do this all the time!’ and, ‘there’s an actual name for this?!’ bubbled up within me. How lovely it was to feel truly seen by the One who, like Psalm 3 says, created and set in place the moon and stars. That feeling was one of validation– that it wasn’t just some weird or to be denied part of me that loved looking out at the world and seeing the insights from God all around me that needed to be kept secret because it was ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. It wasn’t. It was a real, holy, beautiful way of connecting with God with a real name that people have been practicing within the Christian tradition. There were other people out there– just like me– who looked out to the world with their eyes and saw God there. From flowers to snowflakes, ocean waves to art and architecture being created from the minds and hands of those created in the image of God, it was a moment of celebration for this soul nourishing practice that was so naturally a part of how I connected with God.
In the practice of Visio Divina we intentionally seek God by praying with images, icons, created media and creation itself. Our desire is to worship God in the beauty of created things. Lectio Divina is a way we pray scripture; Visio Divina, holy seeing, is a way to pray with the eyes. For centuries the church has put icons, the cross, stained glass, mosaics, art and statues in churches as invitation to pray with the eyes.
“Anyone can be blind to God’s fingerprints on creation. But if we pay attention, oh what beauty can tell us. In ‘One Thousand Gifts’, Ann Voskamp writes, “All beauty is only reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which i bow down… Looking is the love. Looking is the evidence of the believing.” – Quote from The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.
Jesus encouraged this ‘holy seeing’ when he encouraged people to consider the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:26-34).
Today, I want to share this practice with you. Perhaps, as you’ve been reading, you, like me, have been feeling a sense of validation at a practice you naturally do to connect with God. Perhaps this sounds like it will be a whole new experience for you. Wherever you’re at, I invite you to come with open hearts and minds to try the practice of Visio Divina.
Let’s dive into 5 movements of Visio Divina so you can engage this beautiful practice right where you’re at!
First, start by finding an image you’d like to use for your practice or position yourself in front of a window and get outside where you can view nature like a park or your backyard, the ocean– anywhere that works for you.
For our practice today, let’s use the beautiful image from the James Webb Space Telescope.
(If you’d like to view the full image, click here)
Then, we move onto the practice:
- Movement 1 – Quiet preparation of the heart.
Find a comfortable seat, silence the noise around you. Slow down. Pray to God releasing tension and anything filling your mind over to Him. Acknowledge the presence of God meeting you in the place where you are. This is a great space to close your eyes, breathe and allow yourself to become present right here, right now.
- Movement 2 – Gaze with openness.
Gaze at the image with openness, and seek to see with God’s eyes. Notice shapes, colours, details. Notice depth and light and pattern and grain. Zoom in on the image to notice even more details. There’s no right or wrong thing to notice as you gaze; you’re simply taking it all in.
- Movement 3 – Notice what stirs.
As you’re looking at the image, notice what stirs within you and what draws your attention. Just like in Lectio Divina, it is God that is inviting you to a treasure of connection for you in this moment. What responses, memories and feelings does the image evoke? What connection does the image make with your life? Maybe something stands out, maybe something is stirring in your heart. As things begin to light up to you, explore the invitation.
Perhaps a passage of scripture, like Psalm 8 or Psalm 119 come to mind and you want to take a moment to read. Feel free! This is your time with God.
- Movement 4 – Respond + Pray.
Respond to God about what you are seeing and sensing. What is it like for you to practice Visio Divina? How have you felt connected to God during this time; is there anything you feel He is saying to you? What do you want to take with you and remember about this time of prayer? When you consider the image of a tiny portion of the universe along with this image, Talk to God about what is coming up for you in prayer. Let the image continue to remind you to seek God.
- Movement 5 – Contemplation.
Rest in the beautiful presence of God. Allow yourself time to sit and let what you’ve experienced sink in. If you’d like, you can turn what stood out to you most or perhaps what a take away from the practice was with you as a breath prayer for the day or you could put a reminder in your phone to go off a few times during the day as a reminder. Take at least 10 deep breaths here practicing contemplation enjoying the presence of God.
Use these 5 basic steps as a guide to engage with prayer with God when on a walk, taking in the sights when travelling or looking at a beautiful piece of art. There is no limit– if you can view it with your eyes, you can practice Visio Divina!