Visio Divina: A Spiritual Practice for Lent (and COVID-19)

Visio divina is a spiritual practice that may help focus our distracted minds and engage in prayer with God. Like its cousin lectio divina, visio divina is a way of praying and being attentive to God.  A simple definition from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Practices that Transform Us is this: “Visio divina, holy seeing, is a way to pray with the eyes.”  (If you search for visio divina, I guarantee you will be directed to many flaky websites including some not grounded in our Christian faith.)  Like lectio divina, visio divina is a practice that requires time and attention to Scripture.

This past Sunday, Beth preached from John 11, and David is using this painting The Raising of Lazarus for morning prayer this week. The painting, by artist Leon Bonnat, dates from 1857 and is in the Musée Bonnat Helleu:

Raisingoflazarus

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s 1896 rendition of the The Resurrection of Lazarus, is from the Musée d’Orsay:

RaisingLaz2

Bonnat’s rendering is truer to the Biblical passage in John 11, but I commend both to us for the practice of visio divina. Here are some simple steps that may help us in our practice both lectio and visio.

  • Read through John 11 and perhaps choose a verse, then be still. Settle into a posture to listen to God’s voice.
  • Meditate. In lectio, ponder the words. For visio, gaze, look, observe, ask questions and ask God to help you see what he wants you to see, what he wants you to notice. What stirs within you?
  • Pray. Pray through the text or what you notice in the image. Pray to God and ask for his help.
  • Contemplate. We live the text. A contemplative spiritual exercise is meant to lead us to gospel action in the world.

After a time of meditation and prayer in lectio, you might also consider using one or both images for visio divina. Spend a few minutes in observation and consider:

  • What caught your eye? What do you notice?
  • Reflect on the structure: color, lines, shadows, values, intensity.
  • What is the mood of the painting?
  • How do you react to it?  Do you sense an invitation from God?
  • Does anything else strike you?

Biblical meditation provokes questions. Will you allow this passage to transform you?

Rev. Mary Amendolia Gardner

Mary is a Spiritual Director with Coracle, DOMA clergy, and attends Restoration.