Homily, Visio Divina
The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isn’t art incredible? The way it moves us. The way it transports our imaginations to different worlds. The way it speaks to us in ways we might not expect. Whether its music, sculpture, paintings, or dance, art has a way of piercing the human spirit.
And for that reason, it has always played a significant role in the Church. It’s only natural then, that art can lead us into prayer. That’s what today’s spiritual practice is all about.
Each week all through Lent I am highlighting for us spiritual practices that we may find helpful in this season and throughout our lives. So far, we’ve talked about the Welcoming Prayer, the Crucifix, and last week, while we did have a guest preacher, I also posted online about another practice called the Beloved Prayer. You can find that on our website. Today I’d like to talk about Visio Divina.
Visio Divina. It means Sacred Seeing in Latin, and is all about allowing art to lead us into prayer. So this morning I’d like to try out this practice together, and for our subject I’ve chosen this 16th century depiction of our gospel reading today: The Healing of the Blind Man, located at Dionysiou Monastery in Mt. Athos, Greece, a large monastic community in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The ushers have some paper copies for those who would like a closer look. Let’s see how the practice of Visio Divina can draw us deeper into this story and the heart of God.
After selecting our subject and finding a comfortable place to sit, we relax and take a few deep breaths, asking God to speak to us in our viewing. The first step, then, is to survey the entire picture. Notice the colors, the shapes, the lighting. Look to both the foreground and the background. Look to see what is happening in the image. (Pause)
You can see in this image Jesus and the man who had been born blind are standing in the center. Jesus is touching his eye. On the left there are onlookers witnessing the event. On the right the man touched by Jesus now washes in a cruciform pool, bringing up the water to his eyes. The colors are bright and dominated by blue with a striking contrast of yellow. It’s beautiful.
Having surveyed the entire image, the second step is to allow your attention to gravitate towards one thing. What sticks out to you? What is drawing your attention? What curiosity do you have? (Pause)
For me, it’s their hands. The hands of each figure is doing a different thing. Jesus’ hand is touching the blind man’s eye. The blind man is holding a cane with one hand and has a palm out with the other. At the pool his palms are cupped around the water. The onlookers have either closed hands or hands with palms out and held close to their bodies. Jesus and one of the onlookers seem to be holding something in their hands.
The third step is to spend some time reflecting on that part of the image that has drawn your attention. Why do you think that part captured your attention? What do you think God is saying to you? Do you perceive some meaning or significance for that part of the image? Does it somehow connect to your life or experience? Do any memories arise in you? How is God using this image to speak to you? (Pause)
For me, I notice the posture of the figures’ hands reveal the posture of their hearts. The man who had been born without sight has a receptive posture. With his open palm he is able to receive something new. He is open to having his experience changed. He is ready to experience the presence of Christ. He is not closed or defensive in his posture, but welcoming and available. And that’s really the demeanor demonstrated throughout the Scripture passage. Not only is he able to receive sight from Jesus, at the end of the passage he is able to receive belief in Jesus, the Son of Man. And he fell down and worshiped him.
By contrast the onlookers have either closed hands or hands which seem to put distance between them and Jesus. The primary figure has both his hands up and close to his chest as if to say, “Stop!” Or “I’m staying out of it.” Rather than hands of welcome, his hands are meant to divide and segregate. We also see this in the passage. Despite testimony after testimony, the Pharisees refused to believe that this man had been given sight or that God’s Spirit was upon Jesus. In fact it says they drove the man out of the synagogue.
On the surface this passage is about seeing, but on a deeper level, this passage is about perceiving. The man who cannot see has hands which demonstrate his perception and receptivity to the moment. The ones who can see have hands which demonstrate their lack of perception or willingness to open their worldview to the hand of God. The image makes you wonder, who am I in this story? Are my hands open and ready to receive or are they distant and put up as a barrier?
The fourth step is to allow these reflections to move us into conversation with God. We have heard God speaking to us in our reflections; now what is our response to God? How does our heart speak to God’s heart?
“God, help us to be receptive to what you have for us. Help us to get past the attachments and pride and skepticism which put up barriers between us and the work you are doing in this world. Make us ready to be surprised by the places we find you, so that when you are near we will not pass you by. God, give us open and receptive hands.”
The final step is to spend a few moments resting in God’s presence. Having journeyed through the image and allowing ourselves to be changed by it, we pause and perhaps close our eyes, to lovingly rest in the presence of God. (Pause)
Art is such a powerful thing. And when we apply it to prayer, it truly becomes for us a sacred way of perceiving and listening to the voice of God. Let us like the man in our story, then, find ourselves open and ready to receive God’s voice in the midst of it’s beauty. Amen.