Windows for the SOUL

I was taught as a child that when ’saying my prayers’ I should put my hands together and close my eyes, no doubt for some good reason, but it took several years before I realised that seeing could be an aid to prayer, rather than a hindrance.

For some, art can be a way into prayer. Looking at a painting, a sculpture or a photograph can focus the mind and quieten the inner restlessness and bring fresh insight.

Spiritual themes have inspired artists down the ages and over many centuries the Orthodox Church, in particular, has developed the sacred art of painting, or ‘writing’ icons. Icons are not images to be worshipped, for worship belongs to God alone, but rather they are to be venerated. Their purpose is to be ‘a window opening on to the divine’ or a gateway to heaven. After a recent eye operation, I was required to recuperate by lying face down for a fortnight. It was boring looking at the floor so instead I gazed at a copy of Andrei Rublev’s beautiful icon of the Trinity and I was awed by the layers of meaning that it contains. My contemplation led me to write a book: ‘The Circle of Love – praying with Rublev’s icon’.

God has created a beautiful world for us to live in and Jesus drew the attention of his listeners to flowers of the field, birds of the air, a sower in a field, a city set on a hill and other illustrations. In his teaching, he made use of the visual to deepen understanding.

In nature there are so many images that lend themselves to contemplation, for example a tree planted by a stream, shells or pebbles on the beach, a mountain range, the rising and setting of the sun, reflections in a pool, flowing water, the unfurling of spring, the abundance of summer, the surrender of autumn, misty days, the beauty of spiders’ webs outlined by frost or the long sleep of winter.

Windows for the soul are everywhere if we have eyes to see, but not just to see with our physical sight, but to develop God’s gift of insight, which allows us to see beyond to that which brings us revelation.

George Herbert, in his hymn that begins ‘Teach me, my God and King,’ wrote these words:

         A man may look on glass,

         on it may stay his eye;

         or if he pleaseth, through it pass,

         and then the heav’n espy.

Suggestion: How about finding an object, either natural or handmade and then spending a little time becoming still as you gaze at it? Let it lead you into wonder which in turn will lead you into prayer.

Ann leads Quiet Days and offers Spiritual Direction to those who would like a soul friend to accompany them on their spiritual journey.