Contemplative Prayer: The Five Steps of Visio Divina

By Kathy Keary

The tapestry shown above hangs in my home and has sparked numerous moments of deep reflection and prayer over the past several years.

Various elements of the picture have stood out to me at different times depending on what is happening in my life at that moment. There are times when I connect with Jesus reaching out his hand to help someone. More times than not though, I connect with the little girl accepting the hand of Jesus to save her or the toddler in his arms in need of much comfort and care. Sometime it is the raging water or the rugged terrain that captures my attention.

At other times, the words, “Be Not Afraid,” provide a healing touch. The light shining through the treacherous landscape has been a fruitful center of reflection as well.

The words of Henri Nouwen in his book, Spiritual Formation, articulates well my experience of meditating on this tapestry:

Contemplative prayer often brings us to an intimate encounter with the love of God, revealed to us in Jesus. In such an experience we come to know ever more deeply that God is not against us, but for us; not far from us, but with us; not outside of us, but deeply within.

As we take a quiet moment to reflect in a peaceful place, our minds and hearts become still and, in this stillness, become deeper and wider, inviting/unbinding the eternal quality of life in all its fullness. It is in the growing inner awareness of the eternal embrace of God that we find our true freedom.

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. The steps of Visio Divina are similar to those of Lectio Divina, which I wrote about last week.

Visio Divina sets our interior stage for a soulful connection with our Maker where intimate communion is possible.

To aid in your reflection this week, use this photograph of the beautiful grounds at Precious Blood Renewal Center as we walk through the five parts of this meditation.

Flowers on Renewal Center campus

Step 1

Identify the art that will be the subject of your reflection. Then pick a comfortable place where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Relax. Closing your eyes and focusing on your breath can be a helpful way to center yourself in the divine.

Step 2

Gaze at the entire picture. Notice the shapes, the colors, and the lighting. Notice the detail of both the foreground and background. Once you have visually canvased the artwork, note what has drawn your attention. Just like in Lectio Divina, it is God that is luring you to a treasure meant just for you.

Step 3

Meditate on the part of the picture that has drawn your attention. How is God speaking to you? Why do you think God drew your attention to this particular part? 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.

Step 4

God has been speaking to you as you meditated on this artwork. It’s now time for you to respond to the divine. Allow your words to be born in the recesses of your soul. What is your response? What is your prayer? Articulate any yearnings or desires that arise. Give voice to the emotion that is whirling within.

Step 5

Words are never sufficient to express our deepest selves. Turn to silence to simply rest in communion with our Creator – the One who kissed your soul before placing it in your body – the One who loves you beyond measure. Savor the stillness. Be soothed by Love.

Visio Divina sets our interior stage for a soulful connection with our Maker where intimate communion is possible. I have discovered that Visio Divina encourages the practice of viewing all of life through a sacred lens uncovering the messages hidden within creation. All of life then becomes hallowed ground.

I will leave you with the wisdom of Richard Rohr from his book The Universal Christ: “Authentic God experience always expands your seeing and never constricts it. … In God you do not include less and less; you always see and love more and more.”

Note: New articles in this series will be posted to the website every Monday and Wednesday. Full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles.

[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]

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