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A Lenten Visio Divina at Gallery W83 in NYC
"this really happened" by Julie Shelton Snyder
When it was time to exhibit the wood block prints that came out of her residency at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan, Julie Shelton Snyder wanted to create not only a gallery show, but also an event that would acknowledge the relationship between the contemplative nature of her work and her 14 years of Centering Prayer practice. I was delighted when Julie and The Gallery at W83 approached me to help create a contemplative experience that would honor the connection between Julie’s art and her Centering Prayer practice.
More than 40 people signed up to attend the event on a snowy Saturday morning on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Julie gave an opening talk about her work and I offered a 45-minute introduction to Centering Prayer. During a short break, we rearranged the chairs to face the wall where the prints were installed. The work included 15 woodblock prints that were created using traditional Japanese mokuhanga techniques.
We entered into a contemplative prayer service with Pablo Neruda’s beautiful poem, “Keeping Quiet”, from which the title of Julie’s show, “now we will count to twelve,” is taken. I chanted the poem in the style of a psalm to help shift the tone from teaching to prayer. There was an invitation for silent or spoken prayers before the group was led into a 20-minutes period of Centering Prayer.
After the silence, we practiced Visio Divina, the visual form of Lectio Divina, in which we are invited into a form of “divine seeing” as we prayerfully invite God to speak to our hearts while looking at an image. Participants were invited to rise in silence and move towards the artwork that drew them most strongly, noticing their breath and bodies as they moved. They positioned themselves in front of an artwork and allowed their eyes to scan it slowly, simply present to the image. I asked a series of questions, interspersed with silence:
How does the artwork make you feel in your body?
Does it bring up any particular emotions?
Is God speaking to you in this image?
What is coming forth from you as you look at this image?
It was moving and humbling to hear the words and phrases offered by the participants as they experienced Julie’s work in this contemplative manner, connecting deeply with the practice and the art. Finally, they were invited to simply rest in what the image had offered them. We closed the service by saying together the Casa Del Sol Prayer, John Philip Newell’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.
Art can be a helpful entry point for those who are attracted to contemplation but not immediately comfortable with “God” language. Many of the participants were able to find some way to relate to the transcendent through this event and people commented afterwards that they received what they needed and connected the artwork to their own lives in deep ways.
Afterwards, Julie shared “I cannot think of a higher calling for my work than to have it be part of a contemplative prayer workshop. I still feel like I’m floating after hearing the words participants received during Visio Divina. God is so amazing.”
Julie Shelton Snyder’s show “now we will count to twelve” runs until April 28, 2019 at The Gallery at W83, 150 W 83rd St, New York, New York.
For more information on Visio Divina:
- Read this brief guide on the practice
- Read this article about another contemplative art experience in the June 2018 issue of The Contemplative Outreach News, "Praying with the Eyes of the Heart," by Carol Quest.