Art as a Doorway to Prayer

Today’s post is by Liz Ward

It all started with Michelangelo’s statue of David. While delighting in the beauty of Florence as a carefree nineteen-year-old, I was drawn to visit this famous statue. As I gazed at the vibrant, living, marble, time melted away and suddenly the afternoon was almost over. This was when I began to realize that art was a doorway to prayer for me.

Earlier in my life, time melted away and peace flowed through me when painting something natural, usually a flower. After this experience with David, I noticed this same timeless peace washed over me unpredictably when wandering through the art museums and churches of Europe during my year of studying abroad.

I would meander until a painting or statue became a burning bush catching my eye, slowing me down and making me pause. It was as if something in and through the image were speaking to something within me in a silent, wordless language. I was not thinking about the process at the time.  I was just being present in that timeless moment with the creation before me.  Some subtle shift would happen, and I would feel connected to a wider world and a larger, more mysterious Beauty. I would feel more free and open inside to the Divine Artist.

It would start with a gentle, shimmering invitation to pay attention to an image. While gazing at the artist’s creation, barriers of time and space would dissolve and souls somehow touched each other in the mystery of inter-being. It was as if the artist were sharing something rich and prayerful from a larger Source and I was experiencing the gift in my wordless spiritual heart. It was as if the God alive in the artist were speaking to the God alive in me. Words and feelings might come in response to this deeper communion, but they were smaller than the mysterious fullness of the prayerful experience.

As I was fed by visio divina over the years, patterns in the images that drew me emerged. For years images of the Annunciation fed my spiritual heart. It was fascinating to see all the different ways artists have portrayed their prayerful experience of this Divine invitation to open to the birth of Holy Life within. Seeing all the various ways this sacred invitation was expressed reminded me again and again how uniquely God knows and honors each of our personal and communal journeys.

Sometimes images of pain or suffering drew me. It could be challenging to wait with the hardship or injustice before me. Gazing at Guernica or the Scream or crucifixion scenes or scenes of poverty and loss could be hard. Still, I sensed an invitation to trust the unknown inner shaping that was and still is happening when opening to the mysterious pull of the Spirit. It is as if some illusion is slowly dissolving and a fresher sense of both truth and possibilities is coming alive.

I can’t predict when and if I will be blessed when prayerfully opening to art. When this grace is given, however, it feels like being with the Divine Artist creating with and through the art before me. It seems like a wordless communion with something beautiful, vast and mysterious. It feels like an invitation to live in a larger timeless Beauty flowing in and through a specific image. It feels like a blessed expansion of my being into a larger, Sacred Life leaving me full of wonder, awe and gratitude.


Consider joining Shalem on a pilgrimage in 2017! We are traveling to Paris, the City of Light, where we will visit sites of historic beauty and artistic treasure, experience contemplative worship with local communities, and begin to know the soul of Paris through its beauty, art and people. Click here to learn more! Or view this preview video below:

If you are wondering whether this pilgrimage might be right for you, please join us for one of our free Taste and See events where you will have an opportunity to meet with the pilgrimage leaders, Carole Crumley and Liz Ward; learn more about this unique Lenten journey; and ask questions about the trip and anything else that might help in your discernment process about joining the pilgrimage. Click here to learn more and to RSVP.

December 12, 2016 by Liz Ward 1 Comment
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Anita Davidson
Anita Davidson
7 years ago

Thank you, Liz, for this lovely reminder to look closely for the shimmerings around me. It’s a wonderful Advent practice: wait and watch!


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