Return to God’s word for the purpose of “hearing and seeing” Christ in the text. Fix your gaze on the illumination. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart and enable you to see what God wants you to see.
Part of the foundation for the practice of visio divina is that art can say something about God. When I first learned about The Saint John’s Bible project, I thought that meant that the artist read the text, decided some part of it he or she wanted to display, and if they did a good enough job I would be able to look at the artwork and get the artist’s point. But this doesn’t really do justice to the role of the one seeing the work. It is true that the artist decides what to create, but visio divina is about the art itself speaking to our hearts…something much closer to a conversation than a one-way lesson.
That’s part of the reason that different people are drawn to different parts of the illuminations in The Saint John’s Bible. They have a role in what they will learn from the artwork, and by making it a prayer, they invite God to guide their hearts, minds, and eyes towards Truth.
A few weeks ago I shared this particular illumination with my 6th grade religious education class, and one of the things they picked up on was that some of the people in the crowd were in light, and some were in darkness, even though all of them were seeing the same thing. How appropriate. I’ve personally fallen into the trap before of thinking that if I just had all the evidence before me, if I could just have seen Jesus and all of his works, then I would fully believe. How many books are still being written today trying to elicit the tiniest details of Jesus’ historical life? The reality is that there is always a leap of faith; no matter how much we might know, we somehow have to step beyond what we see with our minds to what we see with our faith, the Truth of the man hanging up on the cross.
That’s why, as my students pointed out, some of the crowd were in light, and others in darkness. Sometimes, perhaps, just seeing is not believing. In visio divina, when you are asked what you see in the illumination, you are faced with the same question. Not just what you see with your eyes, but what you see with your heart, your mind, your-self.
© Crucifixion, Donald Jackson, 2002. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.