You know the experience, when you’re looking for something on the Internet and maybe not so sure how it all fits together, and then lo and behold, someone has already figured it all out! Father Bob Silroy, SJ is like that. Specific to using art as prayer form he writes,
Encounters with God through Art
The arts have been a significant way that I have learned to encounter God. The foundations of this creativity were nurtured in Catholic grammar school and a Jesuit high school. A combination of bible study in small groups and reflections on community service stirred up desires to pursue a religious vocation. I continued to volunteer with special needs populations during college and afterwards in a professional capacity which confirmed the call to enter the Jesuits.
My art education includes an undergraduate major in art and graduate training in art therapy. I have integrated that learning with my formation as a priest in the spiritual tradition of Jesuits. Most of my life as a Jesuit has been to minister to the Lakota Sioux people of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota as a chaplain and spiritual director. Presently, I am an artist-in-residence and offer art retreats at Campion Renewal Center in Weston, Mass. Other art related projects include illustrations for religious brochures, book covers and publications like “America”, a Jesuit weekly magazine.
Much of my artwork focuses on faces or figures. I may begin with a model or I may just apply paint to a surface and through the interplay of color, line and texture I begin to see facial features. Then I use a palette knife or razor blade to reveal more details. Each piece of work emerges from the ongoing dynamic between silence and my consent that allows the spirit of creation to direct my hands. I also work with collage. This process involves composing an image with photos, hand-made papers or found objects glued to a background surface.
Certain spiritual themes emerge as subjects based on prayer methods suggested by St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. One exercise is to imagine a Gospel scene and place myself there, using my senses to bring the story to life in detail. When I interact with Jesus, images evoke desires to know and love Him more in order to follow Jesus more closely. Sometimes a scripture passage suggests what I see on the canvas or an image may be revealed in the creative process that prompts me to return to a story in Jesus’ life. If I quietly pay attention to the images they can reflect how God was present in my ordinary daily experiences. Learning to pray like St. Ignatius revealed how the gift of art enables me to be God’s co-creator who can lead others to discover God’s desire for the good of all creation.
So, it turns out that Fr. Gilroy also has combined a body of like-minded artists who present spiritually-inspired works for sale on www.trinitystores.com which includes iconography and retablos. Additionally, he has a website called www.prayerwindows.com which focuses specifically on the marriage of art and faith as transformative process. Some of his works are accompanied by scripture texts and poetry.
This all leads us to the question of HOW. How does one purposely set forth intention to meditate on an artwork for divine communication and inspiration? Fr. Gilroy has that covered too, in galleries, an online retreat, and extended versions of prayer with paintings based upon the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius. He shares his method for prayer and art below.
|1. QUIET:||Stop for a moment, breathe and simply relax. Perhaps recite a formal prayer.|
|2. INTENTION:||What am I grateful for?
What do I want right now?
|3. ATTENTION:||Look over the entire image. Is there a figure, shape, color, texture or word that calls your attention?|
|4. NOTICE:||What feelings, thoughts, or desires do you notice?
What could they reveal about God and your life?
|5. RESPOND:||Speak to God as you would one friend to another.|
|6. CLOSE:||Offer a prayer or gesture as a way to end the experience.|
If you find it helpful, Fr. Gilroy suggests one to keep a journal to record these sacred encounters. This will allow you to see how God is present in your life over time and share your experience with others. I would also add perhaps a step 4.5 between notice and respond, and that is the element of rest. Especially in our fast existence, reflection takes time. Lots of it. And often within the rest comes the spark enabling response.
Ideas and suggestions for more creative activities as a way to pray can be found on Creative Art Activities. Fr. Gilroy also writes beautifully on What is Prayer?. and then more on The Creative Process of Art and Prayer. And then, most importantly, How I Pray As I Paint and How Spiritual Art can Serve Others. Considering his significant effort to illuminate the art and prayer intersection, and his association with the St. Francis Mission Among the Lakota, I am in complete awe and am so very thankful for his generosity in sharing this work.
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