Spiritual Practice

Praying Through Images

Virginia DuPre

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How often have we heard that phrase? The power of images to convey meaning that words cannot express is not a new concept. Many people in the Bible—Jacob (Genesis 28:10–16), Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1–41), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1–49), Joseph (Matthew 1:18–25), and Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:15–23)—understood the images in their dreams as messages from God, offering them guidance, direction, or warning. Many modern psychologists believe that dreams stem from our unconscious and provide healing and growth by showing us images that represent the state of our psyche and its needs. One noted psychologist, Karl Jung, has actually described images as the “language of the spirit world.”

Art-Making as Prayer

If God does speak to us through images, the practice of noticing and responding to them can be seen as a form of prayer. And the images don’t have to come from our dreams or from visions. We can begin a prayer practice of creating unplanned, uncensored images and reflecting on them—listening for what God wants to say to us.

Scribble Prayers

This is an easy way to begin using art as prayer. You’ll need the following supplies: soft or medium vine charcoal (available at your local craft or art supply store), facial tissues, two sheets of white paper, a candle, matches, and a pen. You may want to have chalk and other art supplies available.

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. If you do this exercise with a friend, agree not to talk until you are both finished. You want to practice listening.
  2. Light a candle. Take note of any concerns you have about your life, then let them go.
  3. Invite your critic to leave so you won’t criticize your work (“I’m not artistic”) or the process (“This is stupid”). Focus on being creative.
  4. devozine Scribbles in chalk Ftr TSP 100945794Pick up the charcoal with the hand you don’t normally use to write. Close your eyes, and scribble on a sheet of paper. Open your eyes and use a tissue to wipe off the scribbles until only faint lines remain. Close your eyes, and scribble again on top of the faint lines; then wipe off the new marks with a tissue. Repeat the process once more.
  5. Look at the scribbles from all angles—upside down and right side up, from both sides and all four corners. Look for an image in the scribbles. Whatever gets your attention is what you are to see and listen to at this moment.
  6. Once you see an image, outline it with charcoal. If you have pastels or chalk, you may add color or features to the image, turning your scribbles into a picture.
  7. Listen for God to speak to you as you ask the image, “Why have you come to me today? What do you have to say about the issues I’m dealing with in my life?” You may want to add other questions.
  8. Reflect on the image as you listen for God. Then write on another sheet of paper the responses you hear. (For example, “I have come to you today to ________. I want to tell you _________.”) Write whatever comes to mind; don’t edit or censor. (Note: No image calls us to hurt others or ourselves. If these are the messages you hear, seek help from a professional counselor.)
  9. When you are finished, rest in God’s presence. Then offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s word to you.

A Word of Caution

Working with images related to an experience of trauma can be unsettling. Begin your scribble prayer by drawing a circle. Keep your images inside the circle to symbolize that you are releasing your feelings but keeping them in a limited space so they won’t overwhelm you. When you are finished, practice “putting away” the images in a safe place until you are ready to look at them again. If you are seeing a counselor, take your images to your next counseling session.

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Do you have trouble articulating your prayers or listening for God? Try a scribble prayer. Allow it to open you to the language of the spirit. Discover what God wants to say to you.

Virginia DuPre , of Atlanta, Georgia, is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a licensed professional counselor, and a registered art therapist.

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