By Elizabeth Gray King
Years ago I learned from the Schyler Institute of Worship and Arts that there are four active languages in worship – aural (what we hear), visual (what we see), kinaesthetic (how we move) and verbal (the words we use). I like to think of God’s languages this way and enjoy affirming that visual language is one way of God speaking to us. It makes sense when we think of messages we receive from someone’s facial expression or body movement, of learning we receive when we see particular objects or buildings, of emotions we feel when seeing particular colours. To pray with art is to pray with expectation that what we see will give us new insight, a new experience, and a deeper relationship with God.
The easy answer to how to pray with art is to experience it. But this is no easy answer for many. There are two ways I use and recommend for praying with art; one is to look at it thoughtfully, the other is to create it.
Seeing art as prayer
Approach any piece of art at any place. It could be in a gallery or exhibition space, but for prayer, it is more likely that the work of art will be in discreet place such as a designated prayer space in a church or retreat centre. You might be in group prayer where a work of art is projected onto a wall or screen. If you are praying alone, you could use a computer to access online art via an artist’s or collection’s website. You could collect artworks from books, posters or postcards.
Once you’ve found the art you want to settle with, start by looking carefully. No matter what the artist may suggest you see, you will see what you see. This is one of the wonderful things about art; it has almost endless meaning depending on who is looking. Breathe. Take time. Allow your eyes to move where they want to move and try not to make them see. Give yourself permission to roam slowly where your eyes seem to want to move. If there is a section which catches you often, rest with it. What does the colour, or lack of colour make you feel or think? What about the shapes caught your attention? Is there a strong light? Or dark? Focus a moment and consider: what of God can you see as you pay attention? Breathe. Let the revelation arrive and speak what it has to say.
Creating art as prayer
To pray whilst creating is to find a colour medium you like; pens, pencils, chalks, paint, crayons, software on a smartphone or tablet. Find a support for the colour; paper, fabric, canvas, cardboard, wood, glass, a smartphone or tablet. Before you become used to this kind of prayer, spend some time experiencing the colours and note, perhaps by creating a guide, which colours already mean something to you. What does red make you feel already? Blue? Is yellow a happy colour? Then start this quite open prayer. Breathe. Every time a word comes into your mind, replace it with colour and make any kind of shape with it. Watch the shapes grow and see what they may be showing you. Try not to do anything identifiable unless you absolutely need to for the prayer’s sake. Stop occasionally, looking well at what has arrived. Keep moving into your prayer with more colours and shapes until you think and feel that you are finished. Then see what you have created. What does this say to you from God?
Day 24.Coronavirus lock-down
I wrote this a long time ago. Then I discovered it fits perfectly to the tune of 'Now the Carnival is Over'.
Maybe, one day, when we can meet again, we could all sing it together in church....if you like it, that is.
That Silent Hour
It happened in that silent hour
When it felt all life did sleep,
The birds weren't even murmering;
Not e'en a mouse did peep.
In that quiet time I lay awake,
Though to some it may seem odd,
But as I lay and yearned for sleep
I felt the presence of my God.
There was a softness in the silence,
A difference in the air,
A gentleness, a lulling,
That wiped away each care.
As the world began to waken
And dawn began to creep,
That gentleness, that loveliness,
Lulled me back to sleep.
Marian Dunham - October 2019
‘How do I look?’ – A reflection by Revd. Gareth Baron
I wonder if you have ever asked yourself the question ‘How do I look?’ No, I don’t mean what you wear, for Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you will wear”.
I mean, how you look, with what lenses do you look through? if any.
What experiences colour the way you see and what perspectives are you willing or not to take on board? Do you look with a glance or stop to look deeply, taking in all the details of the view before you? Are you aware of any blind spots or do you feel blinkered due to circumstances?
So, have you ever asked yourself the question ‘How do I look?’
Thinking about this question is a helpful thing to do. It’s not about an eye test, more a heart thing. In the worship song, ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart’, written by Michael W. Smith, the song captures this sentiment of seeing with our heart. We read in the Gospel according to Luke 24:31 ‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him’. Therefore, let us pray that our eyes our opened to see and recognize Jesus in all areas of the life of the Church and community, when we are gathered and when we our living out being disciples in the everyday.
I offer the following questions for reflection and encourage you to find a safe space to share responses with others in a shared journeying.
1) When I look, do I look honestly? Do I allow those feelings and thoughts that can sometimes get buried or swept under the carpet into my looking to be dealt with properly?
2) When I look, do I look generously? Do I look at things without counting the personal cost and allowing that to shape the way I look, in particular putting aside pleasing self to enable pleasing God in the first instance? Do I look to see what difference could really look like? Do I look to see what difference could really look like when giving myself unconditionally to looking with God?
3) When I look, do I look openly? Do I look with openness to God to help me look at things differently? Do I look openly with sincerity and depth from other perspectives? Do I look openly to what God is showing me?
4) When I look, do I look believingly? Do I look beyond all doubts and with the belief that WITH GOD all things are possible? Do I look believing that the best possible way is God’s way?
Whenever we enter into a new environment we see things for the first time. Gradually over time, our first sight becomes altered as we develop further what we see and how we understand the ever increasing acquainted environment. Often, when we consider evangelism and church growth through making disciples, we do so from our developed place of looking. This can sometimes be heavily biased from our perspectives and therefore influences how we look to create an unconscious biased view point.
We may even be in a position of never having experienced not belonging in the Church. This isn’t a bad thing, just a perspective thing. We are who we are, God loves us all the way we are, yet God loves us too much to just leave us that way. God seeks to be the transforming factor in our lives. We therefore acknowledge that everyone is different and that includes perspectives.
So, when we stop and ask ourselves the question ‘How do I look?’ we can then consider things with greater clarity having earnestly sought to see, not just from where we are, but from where God wants us to be. This may well mean we have greater appreciation for other people and the different perspective each person provides. With new understanding we are better placed to live out the greatest commandments of loving God with our all and loving each other. We are able to join in with God in mission and can nurture a much more natural approach to evangelism which flows out of our very being and character into our everyday living.
In such nurturing we rediscover both our truest self and our most natural self. We rediscover the person God knows us to be and, I would suggest that we can then rediscover the means to speak in our mother tongue, which is Love - an internationally spoken language.
Revd Gareth Baron