Our ‘Praying with Art’ day at Tate Britain originated in, and took its inspiration from, a similar session which is incorporated within the 9 month ‘Deepening our Awareness of God Within Us’ course held annually at the Mount Street Jesuit Centre from September to July. The spirituality behind it is therefore rooted in the Ignatian ideal of finding God in all things and using our imagination in prayer.
Accordingly, just as Ignatian imaginative contemplation invites the praying person to place herself within a Gospel scene, seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and thus encountering Jesus in a deeply personal way, so too we ‘pray with art’ when we use our imagination to engage with a particular painting or sculpture.
In our imagination, we can walk through the landscape that we see on the canvas, or engage in dialogue with the group of people painted there, or participate in their activity. As with praying with Scripture, we are attentive to our feelings and our responses to what we behold.
Since the purpose is prayer, to encounter the God who speaks to us in all the circumstances and activities of our lives, there is no requirement on the part of the participants to have any particular knowledge of or background in art. Indeed, as St Ignatius of Loyola says in his Spiritual Exercises which underpin all that the Mount Street Jesuit Centre is about,
it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul but the inner feeling and relish of things
In our day at the Tate, we sought to experience the art, to feel and relish it at a deep level, and this became prayer as we opened ourselves to what God was saying to us as we beheld a particular work.
Sharing with one another was another fruitful part of the day. Our party of 12 participants split into two groups with Eamonn and Audrey Hamilton facilitating a group each.
Some reflection points were given to the group as they contemplated a particular painting or sculpture silently for a short while before being invited to share their reflections and their experience. This was not an invitation to open a discussion but to allow a safe space to share from the heart, which all seemed to find enriching.
Of course no-one was obliged to share their reflections, but people did so very generously and it was often in the sharing that further fruit could be gleaned. In articulating our own experiences we became more aware of them and could further relish them, and we were then also nourished in hearing and receiving each other’s personal experiences.
After a break for lunch, people had time to find an artwork of their choice to which they were then invited, in turns, to take the rest of their group so that, again, personal reflections could be shared. All found aspects of God in their chosen painting and while, for some, praying with art was a new experience, for all it seemed to be enjoyable and rewarding.