I came across a spiritual practice called Visio Divina recently. It's a method of praying with art or other images. What is interesting to me is that I very naturally find myself in prayerful reflection when contemplating works of art, I simply hadn't known it was a formal spiritual practice. I recall a particularly profound insight striking me a couple years ago, while I was on my solo pilgrimage to beloved Florence, Italy. I had done a lot of wandering around, in an aimless, but not meaningless kind of way. One day, I randomly decided to visit the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. Here is what I wrote in my blog at the time, along with a couple of the photos I took while there:
"I thought I would check out the Brancacci Chapel to see the highly anticipated Masaccio frescos. I arrived at the church of Santa Maria del Carmine late morning ... WOW this chapel is stunning to say the least! The oft publicized panel of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve is the one that my eyes keep straying back to. How well Masaccio captured their pain, their shame, their despair...it is painful to look at this image.
And disturbing because I think who IS this God that would cause such pain...I'm not sure I want to know a God that boots the children out of the house for making a mistake. I'm thinking where is your forgiveness now, oh Lord?! (Admittedly the forgiveness part might follow closely after this biblical passage, but not having read much of the bible, the details of Adam and Eve in their post-expulsion state are rather fuzzy to me.) Not wanting to feel negative about God today, I decide that maybe the whole expulsion story is a metaphor for how we cast ourselves out when we feel ashamed...maybe these two felt so shamed by what they themselves had done that they distanced themselves from God, and not the other way around...heaven knows that in real life, we are very prone to avoiding people when we feel ashamed by our actions. It is hard to face those we have wronged, hard to ask forgiveness and really mean it in our hearts. Much easier to distance ourselves, to turn away."
When I re-read that blog entry, I thought yikes, my biblical knowledge is still woefully lacking more than two years later! But then again, I could reflect on our sacred story every day from now until the breath leaves my physical body and still only have scratched the surface of understanding. How marvellous that these stories can hold so many layers of meaning and metaphor...to be peeled back one by one, depending on our need at the time of reading.
Oh Masaccio, I thank you for sharing your vision of this Genesis passage! In the presence of your incredible image, I opened my heart and came closer to God. God who loves me no matter what, from whom I need never turn away in shame. I think that when I cast myself out, God just waits patiently for me to return and allow myself to be cradled in the healing arms of unconditional love. God knows I have bytimes acted in ways that hurt someone else - I am far from perfect! But God also knows I try...to love as I am loved...to let my light shine as brightly as possible...to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I'm not sure any of us ever truly feel like we are doing enough, but I think we just need to step out and do the best we can. And when we take those steps, we walk toward, not away from, God.
As I move along in my journey toward ministry, I find myself eagerly awaiting the day when I can combine wonderful art with insightful preaching - I shall be in heaven! Naturally, I couldn't resist a quick search of the Lectionary to see when Genesis 3 will be one of the weekly scripture readings and here it is! Hmm, I wonder if I know anyone in whose church I might preach on June 10, 2012 so I can share my reflections from the Brancacci Chapel...