I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Rev. Naomi Kelly’s reflection on finding God’s grace in the non-anxious practice of visio divina.
Most mornings, when I get up to walk the dog, I take my smartphone with me, keeping the camera poised to snap pictures. What a blessing to have been exposed to the idea of visio divina from Christine and Abbey of the Arts. Everything we pass—trees, rocks, creatures—offers a feeling, a whisper, a message from the Divine. It’s so much as looking for God to speak to me as it is being present and letting the picture come to you.
Even a short walk around my neighborhood reveals so many gifts of nature. The deer are watching, hoping to receive a hand out. There are drops of water, glistening on the pine needles like diamonds. The promise of spring abounds in the buds, the running water, and in the air itself.
I feel I am one with the earth, human/humus. When I am in the forest, or by a stream, or overlooking a meadow, I feel as though I am part of it—it is home, it is belonging. A gust of wind will get my attention and I can feel the earth breathing with me; I am in awe and at the same time a component of the awe. A drop of dew on a flower petal holds my reflection and the mystery of all reflections. Just stepping outdoors and breathing in the air of ‘almost spring’ reminds me that I am alive and it energizes me.
There is a story John Philip Newell tells about a dog who went into a church sanctuary, sniffed around and left because there was nothing there that would interest a dog. And what interests a dog? Natural smells – my dog is interested in so many things as the snow recedes, as if there are new found friends being born out of melting ice. That powerful story made me think about our churches: What do our churches offer that the people need? Is a sterile building giving substance to our people to awaken and open our hearts? Many of Newell’s writings have helped me to reconcile my love of nature with Christianity. Of course, reading the stories of Jesus, we find he is always walking off in the wilderness, meditating outside, telling stories about the weather, or food. He was an outdoors sort of guy.
Because of the visio divina, I decided to share some of my pictures, so I began to post a picture with a short caption almost everyday on Facebook. I would see a sun rise and the beauty would be breathtaking, and posting it would prompt questions like: ‘Where do you see beauty today?’ The questions helped to focus me. Later, I began to have a theme. One week in particular revolved around a small fern-like plant called lycopodium. We have four species in our area, and while it was fun, I found myself beginning to determine the content instead of letting the content capture me. Later, I decided to follow the lectionary so that my Facebook posts could be related to what I was going to discuss during Sunday morning worship. For a while I felt very confined. ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘What if I don’t find a picture that goes along with the lectionary?’ When we try and control the outcome we can get ourselves in some anxious situations. But visio divina is not an anxious practice, it is freeing and surprising. I learned more about the graciousness of God and how, if I make a commitment to show up for this practice, there will be a picture and there will be a question. It is like writing, the more we write, the more we are able to write. This is true with most any practice.
This summer it will be a whole year of this practice. What could I possibly see that will be new? Haven’t I explored my neighborhood enough? Maybe I should move out and see what else the world has to offer. That is the kind of thinking that stops an artist, that stops spiritual growth, too. Better questions for me will be, what does today have to offer? What is drawing my eyes this morning? As we say in our yoga meditation, ‘I am awake, I am alert, I am practicing.’
As I continue to be in the world of nature and let it teach me, I think that my awareness (consciousness) of it will increase my ability to find more wholeness, unity and peace. “
Rev. Naomi Kelly is a pastor, Spiritual Director and retreat leader.