Monday, February 27, 2017


A few days ago I had a lesson in experiencing the practice of Visio Divina and learned about something completely new to me.
El Greco "The Baptism of Christ"1568

While Lectio Divina is a method of praying with scripture, Visio Divina (Latin for "divine seeing") is a method for praying with images (such as Icons).
Visio Divina is a contemplative practice meant to develop ways of seeing holiness in our everyday lives. By meditating on paintings, scenes from real life, and icons, you can learn to penetrate the surface meaning and unearth what God means for you to hear and learn. The first step is to find part of an image that grabs you, that makes you stop and look again. Using a series of questions to answer as a guide to discover just what spoke to us through the images. The practice is simple: once you enter into the presence of God, you discern what the image is telling you. What is holy is what speaks to you and captures your heart.

The altarpiece painted by El Greco with the Baptism of Christ on the right.
Our workshop leader had us look at a reproduction of "The Baptism of Christ" by the late Renaissance painter El Greco. After reading several Bible passages that tell the story of Christ's baptism, and a time of contemplation, we turned away from the image by El Greco and drew our own impression of what spoke to our hearts. I have posted below my drawing which is a bit more developed than what most people would do. Okay, it's what I do, I'm not a public speaker, writer, or gifted singer, I just draw.
Traditional icon Baptism of Christ
As I looked at the painting by El Greco which I did love to see, I was cognizant of the traditional icon form of the composition. Coincidentally I have been teaching my Rhetoric and Logic art students about Byzantine Art and icons in art history. 

Yet what caught my eye was the figure of John the Baptist. Why is his skin darker than that of Christ's? Because he lived in the desert eating locusts and wearing animal skins? Why is the sky so turbulent? There are some odd and arresting silhouettes made by the foliage and staff that John carries. I could think of more to write but will leave this image that I drew as the moment of discernment. I ended up not drawing the figure of Christ or the angels, because I was identifying with John and the swirl of nature about him.
I appreciate the opportunity to learn about this spiritual practice, and today even more as we approach the season of Lent and contemplation. Contemplation and holiness and learning about spiritual matters does not mean I can't draw and paint. I have now learned that in fact I should give myself over more to this gift.