November 04, 2014

Visio Divina

Visio Divina (Divine Seeing) is a form of contemplative prayer.

Lectio Divina is the practice of promoting communion with God through reading scripture or sacred texts, meditating on the reading, prayer, and contemplation. It has been a long standing Benedictine tradition. Visio Divina, (Divine Seeing) is praying with art, bringing in all the senses during contemplation. 

Our culture today is one of technology. If you observe a group of teenagers sitting together, or adults gathered in a restaurant, chances are the majority of them will be disengaged from the conversation; texting, checking email, using their cell phone, playing a video or an online game. 

We are also bombarded with messages through television, movies, music and printed materials that attempt to define us; to encourage us to fit into a secular box with everyone else. 

The media tries to indoctrinate us, especially our children, that character has no value. It exhorts that what is important is popularity and material possessions. The message is: If you don’t have the latest gadget or wearing the newest fad, aren’t the “first on your block” to own something, aren’t one of the kids sitting at the popular table or you don't have the perfect body type, then you don’t fit in. The media stresses, If You Don’t Fit In, You Don’t Matter.

The distractions keeping us from establishing a meaningful portrait of our true self and nurturing authentic relationships, are endless and overwhelming. This is especially true if we are confused about our true identity and self-worth.

“A picture is worth a thousand words!” How many times have we heard this expression?  Images and icons have touched us in unmeasurable ways. For some, the sight of a pregnant woman stroking her unborn child through her baby bump fills us with love. A veteran returning from war fills our heart with compassion. An ice cream commercial on the television at 10:00 often pushes us into the kitchen for “just a little bit of something!”

Images don’t stop there; sacred art and images of a holy nature often help a culture define itself.  

One of the first actions the Communists, the Nazis or any controlling dictator does when conquering a village or country is to outlaw all religious images, icons and statues. Citizens who are found hiding a painting or even the tiniest statue are imprisoned or killed. Artists and sculptors of holy works of art disappear, never to be seen again. That is followed by outlawing prayer and the practice Christianity in any form. Churches will be confiscated and turned into government offices or storage facilities.

Arbitrators of these types of measures know that the loss of holy images, the intimidation and threats towards those of faith slowly eats away at the victims’ souls, their identity and eventually, even their humanity. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author, scholar and psychoanalyst, presents this theory in her book entitled, Untie the Strong Woman ; a book about the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love. She states, “Totalitarian ambitions move swiftly to first and foremost erase powerful sacred images that inspired souls to strive not for the state, not for any organization, but for the soul’s worth, toward Creator…” 

Many people are leaving their faith, or attending services in a robotic haze as an insurance policy for a place in heaven. It is highly likely that the only images they are going to have with  meaning are the ones that not only invite but insist that one strives for material substance and mainstream immorality. The possibility of knowing and recognizing the divine diminishes with every breath. 

Even if you don't believe in God, or a Creator or Source, it is vital to be able to see the divine in the mundane; to see that we are all connected and equal. We need to believe in the "holiness" of all of Earth and all her creatures.

While many take the bait our culture casts, many feel uncomfortable; they sense absence of authenticity; they are in a state of confusion, frustration and dissatisfaction.

Imagine if religious people everywhere could relate to the holy, to the sacred and divine in the mundane. If our soul’s worth didn’t depend on being reminded by sacred art, though sacred art is beautiful and glorious. If we could see God in the leaves of the trees, in the clouds sailing through the sky, in a tiny flower pushing its way through asphalt. What if we could recognize a sacred presence in the eyes of our neighbor; if we could close our eyes and feel the divinity in life flowing through us!

My husband and I are teaching a Visio Divina class at our church. It has been rewarding in many ways. We are meeting new people, contemplating the divine in the mundane and teaching photography lessons all at the same time.  

My husband is, also, the one of great faith. He knows his stuff though, speaking of religion, it would  be more accurate to say he knows His stuff? I, on the other hand, have been the great questioner!  I want answers and question everything. Visio Divina has helped me find some of the answers.


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