Lectio Divina: Grief and Art
As I have written about on several occasions before, art is medium that may offer another way to engage in prayer-through the vision of the artist and depiction of things that call our attention to elements of life and spiritual longing. We will use art this week as a source for exploring prayer and our relationship with God through our grief process.
I have been thinking recently about our processing of grief as this pandemic year extends into another with little relief worldwide and so many losses that we have yet to account for. We will be processing the ambiguous, stressful, and confounding losses that we have all been suffering for some time to come.
Lectio divina is a prayer practice from the meaning of the words, “divine reading”. Christine Valters Paintner asks us to expand the notion of lectio divina beyond scripture to include art, poetry, music, and other art forms; I invite us into that expansion here. By contemplating art in this way, we implore God to “Give me a word” to keep carrying our burdens, in this case grief. So, I ask us all this week to pause, look, listen fully and cultivate presence to whatever ‘IS’ in our lives and hearts right now; to honor love through our grief and through images that speak to divine longing in the face of the inevitable-loss and death. Find the time and space to look slowly, listen with the fullness of your heart and respond without judgement to what is stirring as you engage in this practice. We will learn together through the next seven days.
David Kessler’s work is called, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”
Christine Valters Paintner’s work is called, “Lectio Divina-The Sacred Art: Turning Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer”
Today’s Bible reading
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
More thoughts for meditation
In this passage, Jesus left his parents during the Passover Festival in Jerusalem and was later found in the temple courts. Anxious, his parents asked the 12-year-old Jesus why he left them, why he treated them in this way? This anticipates the questioning of his early death and the grief one feels knowing that to love, you must let go.
Millais has depicted a youthful Jesus injured and within the carpenter’s studio of his father. While this is quite a different place than the temple in Jerusalem, it speaks to the everyday experience of sanctity of place. In his day, Millais, among a new group of artists (The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), wanted to displace the life of Christ from an idealistic, romantic space and place Him in an ordinary space where we can relate to Him more naturally. Obviously, this is still a Western, Euro-centric vision of a boy and family, but try to step into the image of a carpenter’s shop next to the fields and farms that sustain a community. This is an image of the everyday life of the child of Jesus. He is hurt and surrounded by people who want to care of him in ordinary ways.
In talking about grief, David Kessler writes, “…no matter how deeply religious or spiritual we are, sometimes we want to be left in the humanness of our pain. There will be times when a grieving person does not want to be told that their loved one has gone to a better place or has gotten their heavenly reward or is with Jesus. For some people such words may be comforting whenever they are spoken. For others, never. And for still others, only at the right moment.”
Jesus was a living person who came to be with us in flesh and blood. Let us see him in full color and in the light of day and anticipate that we will experience the grief of his death, just as we experience the grief of other losses in our lives here-and-now. Let us not idealize Jesus and his family and instead, see them being people just like us full of love, activity, loss, and sadness.
Suggestions for action
Observe the painting above and take the time to notice what arises in you as you do. The first step of Lectio Divina is to listen. Listen and consider the state of your own grief feelings in the present moment. What human and spiritual longings and questions arise? How can we be present for our real feelings of grief in our lives? And how can we support ourselves and our friends and families in very real, human ways? Ask God to give you a word to help you name your grief right now. Repeat the word and hold it in your heart without asking what it means, exactly or what to do with it, just let it live in you.