Art as Contemplative Prayer

Art and creativity usher us into awareness.  It’s for that reason, that we champion the arts–and continue to practice reflection on art as contemplative prayer.  The following is an excerpt from the guide created for an event on September 21, 2013.

“Contemplative prayer . . . is our response to God’s invitation to relational intimacy.” – Juliet Benner

The contemplative prayer that we engage in most often as a community is about receptivity–it’s about being open to our life, to others, and to God in stillness and silence.  Seeing is a part of our receptivity–both our vision and awareness are apart of this seeing.  However, it’s not just in stillness and silence that we are to be receptive, our life awaits unfolding God’s nearness.  Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”

Benner quotes John O’Donohue, “We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender.’ He goes on to argue that both awakening and surrender are shaped by seeing because how we see determines what we see and what we see shapes the soul.”    Seeing can guide us into experiencing each moment with the depth of value it carries.  Seeing echoes the call for us to let go of what holds us back from truly living.

Invitations to see are present throughout the Story,  “. . . stand by and see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13), “behold the beauty of the LORD” (Psalm 27:4), “Let us go . . . and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15), “O taste and see” (Psalm 34:8).  We are beckoned to a life of awareness–to truly see our world.

We surround this community with art in order to open our life to something deeper than a surface level sleepwalking through life.  It is within the world of art, that our senses are engaged—understanding and knowing is not reduced to mere reason and the rational.  It is with art that we can touch something that may have been long avoided–the interior life.  Taking in art–seeing it–means feeling life deeply.

Not only does art lead us to feel deeply–it invites us to let go of our need to control.  When we process artwork we are viewing the world through another’s perspective–and we are entering a dialogue about the world in which the art was created and presented.  Even if we don’t know the intent of the artist–the art is open to interpretation, meaning, there is likely not just one view of it.  Art is mysterious.  Our encounter with art–at times comforting and other times perplexing–makes room in us to be open to the mystery of God.  Paul writes, “we see through the glass darkly.”  We don’t get the entire picture–we cannot grasp the entirety of God.  We see a fuzziness–and yet we struggle for clarity.  The world of the arts is one that helps us be a little more okay with less control, less clarity, and more mystery.

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Prayer before Art

May our encounter with the art and artist
be also an encounter with You.
Let the Story live on in us,
as we imagine the Story anew.

Let us not avoid what stirs,
reflecting on our life,
feeling deeply within us,
seeing the artwork before us as mirror.

May our world be expanded,
viewing from the slant of others;
by the mysteries of God ever growing,
leading us to step out of our myopia,
and letting go of our tight grip of control. 

Let us taste and see.