See What You See


We live in an increasingly visual world. We are both stimulated and soothed by images that pour through our eyes. It has always been so, but our digital age has set our visual sense almost on hyperspeed. We are bombarded with visual messages and images on a second-by-second basis. So not only do we see more, our visual filters are screeching at a pace to keep us from melting down from the over stimulation.

So why use visio divina to combat meltdowns?

While we are seeing more all around us constantly, we don’t always see what we see. See?

Imagine walking through a city park. There are twenty or thirty random parents jogging with their strollers in front of them, all wearing bright colours; various groups of young people are hanging out all looking at their devices, but having verbal conversations at the same time; people on their way to the office are stepping highly, looking like they’re talking to no one in particular (when really there are devices plugged into their ears as they have their walking meetings); park caretakers are beside wastebaskets, emptying the trash into bright orange trash bags; vendors are setting up to sell ice cream, newspapers, and coffee; some young kids are rolling around the skate park; a few folks down on their luck are meandering the pathways; and cyclists are racing past, getting from here to there.

Pretty normal for a busy city park, right?

We take all of this in, but we don’t always see everything. Our filters are working hard to protect our sensory systems from breaking down altogether. While you might zero in on the coffee vendor because you need a caffeine fix, I might zero in on the kids on skateboards, admiring their dexterity. We can only take in so much.

But neither of us noticed the butterfly landing on the new spring branch.

We were so busy trying to compensate for the busy-ness, that we didn’t take time to really see what we could see. We were already so overwhelmed, that we didn’t bother to ask: “What do we see?”

Visio divina — or divine seeing — is an ancient practice of connecting with God through what we see, using art or photography or real time scenes around us. It involves some serious time and discipline, just as lectio divina (or divine prayer) does. It demands we hone in on an image that exists in our vicinity, be attentive to our breathing, ask some simple but challenging questions, and sit with what it is we see.

So, reader… what do you see?


Spending minutes looking at a photo, especially one not linked to us personally, can be challenging. Spending minutes in silence over anything can be challenging. Our filters, remember, have been conditioned to work at maximum capacity all of the time. Dialing all of that back doesn’t come instantly. Our thoughts, emotions, worries, to-do lists, voicemails and work concerns will all bubble up to the top immediately.

Don’t give up.

This is normal.

Let the dross rise to the surface.

This is where I want to give up, too, because it can be exhausting hearing our own voices screaming inside ourselves for what seems like forever. My best advice: let it all come. Unless you’re working with a professional who’s closely monitoring how much alone time you can safely spend with yourself (as is the case with some severe forms of mental illness), rest easy that one of the first things that will happen when you choose to be silent is for the world to become exceedingly loud.

Let it be loud.

Let it yell.

Let it cluck.

Let it get all of that yackity-yack out.

For some it may take moments; but if you’re like me who tends to ruminate over the tiniest details, it will take many minutes (and many practices of many minutes).

As you gaze at the image, ask God some simple questions:

“What am I seeing?”

“What do I see here?”

“Where is God in this picture?”

“Who is God in this picture?”

Keep the questions simple and to the point. The practice of visio divina is to connect with God, so it stands to reason that God will have a present part in the practice. Some folks criticize this aspect, suggesting that by inviting God into the mix there enters a religious bias.

Visual mindfulness has many similar aspects as visio divina. In fact, visio divina is indeed an example of visual mindfulness. It’s simply a spiritual and religious one with deep roots. So if you’re not ready for connection with God through visio divina, I’d still encourage you to practice a form of mindfulness that you are comfortable with.

Let’s return:

“What am I seeing?”

“What do I see here?”

“Where is God in this picture?”

“Who is God in this picture?”

I’m the type of person that, when all the noise finally hushes, I might experience a string of words inside that strikes me as profound. For it to remain with me, I need to write it down. So I’m prepared with my journal and pen. Others prefer to sit with their experiences; others are more kinetic and need to meditate on the picture, get up and do some housework or office work, and return a few minutes later. However your body and spirit connect the best, find your groove and move within those rhythms.

“God, what if you aren’t here?”

We’re all thinking it. We’re all afraid of it. We’re taking so many good and deliberate steps to connect with this invisible God we claim to believe in. What if God doesn’t show up?

Ask yourself:

“How do I need God to show up right now?”

I often need those divine strings of words that assure me I’m not alone. When those words don’t fall together or settle within me, my first reaction is that I’ve been abandoned. When my groove doesn’t result in connection, God’s obviously not around.

Instead of belittling myself, maybe I can bring that back around to what I’m seeing.

“God, you aren’t in this picture. Sorry, but no matter which way I turn this, you aren’t here.”

If your session ends on that note, that’s okay. It’s frustrating, it’s sad, it’s hard, and it can be rattling. Especially during our darkest times when practicing visio or lectio divina, our perspectives can be lost. So it doesn’t FEEL okay that God doesn’t seem to be showing up; and it’s distressing that this ever-present God feels like She’s abandoned her chicks; but the reality that we’re not going to have mountain-top experiences all of the time is OKAY.

Being aware of our need for connection when there is no connection is perhaps your session’s way of saying: “Pick up the phone. Tell someone what you see or what you want to see.”

There’s nothing wrong with that.

As we practice divine seeing in a visually overwhelming world, we’ll come to learn our cues and waves and needs and patterns. Just as we learn to perceive our physical hunger or tiredness or response to injury and illness, we’ll learn how we naturally respond to what we see.

But it’s crucial to stop first. It’s important that we choose to see. When we challenge ourselves to see what we see, it’s incredible how the world we never knew was there opens up with new vibrancy, colour, grayscale, depth, texture and light.

So go on.

What do you see?

2 thoughts on “See What You See

  1. Through the cracks and holes of the broken panes Gods light shines. In the shards of broken class the light of God is reflected, and even in the sealed bottle where nothing else enters the light of God is present. Where there is no light God is present , for in those places and in those moments I have breathed the light of God into my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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