Technically this is no. 15 of 14 — I missed one book that I had my hands on for a few months in 2011, and I used a couple of excerpts while teaching at the St. Francis Centre last summer. Juliet Benner, a spiritual director and wife of David Benner, wrote “Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer.” Here is the blurb from the IVP website:
While working as a docent in an art gallery, Juliet Benner began showing people how to meditate on Christian art treasures that are rooted in a passage of Scripture. She taught a way of encountering the Word behind both the words of Scripture and the artist’s meditation on Scripture. This became a way of seeing art as an aid to contemplative prayer.
This process resulted in her much-beloved “O Taste and See” columns that appeared in the spiritual formation journal Conversations, now expanded into this book. In each chapter you’ll encounter a passage of Scripture and a corresponding piece of art. You’ll be guided into deeper levels of meaning and reflection through the text and the questions at the end of each chapter. In the process you’ll find yourself entering into a new experience of prayer and meditation in God’s presence.
The book is divided into three parts:
I. Transformed Awareness
II. Transformed Vision
III. Transformed Living
For example, here is the ToC for Part I:
Part One: Transformed Awareness
Bruegel the Elder, Census at Bethlehem
2 Coming Aside
Moretto da Brescia, Christ in the Wilderness
3 Gazing in Stillness
Johannes Vermeer, Jesus in the House of Mary and Martha
4 Attuned to God’s Presence
Jean-François Millet, The Angelus
As you can see, each chapter is comprised of reflections on a particular piece of religious art. On the third evening at the St. Francis Centre I borrowed from Benner’s book to offer a meditation based on Rembrandt’s painting of Jesus and the disciples on the boat in the stormy sea. Here are the questions I used as we all viewed the slide projected on a screen at the front of the room. We took 10-12 minutes for this exercise.
Put yourself in the boat with the disciples. Where would you be in the boat? What sounds do you hear? What does it feel like to be in such a storm?
In each of our lives, storms are inevitable. What are the storms you face at this moment? Does God seem distant or uninvolved? Are you tempted to lose faith in this time?
Pause to review your day. Where do you notice God’s presence or absence in it?
Thank him for the times where you recognized him.
Ask forgiveness for the times you have missed or ignored him.
Ask for the gift of discernment to see God in your day tomorrow.
Juliet’s book was published in 2010.
The Benner’s are an active and gifted couple. David Benner’s little book, The Gift of Being Yourself, is outstanding. At IVP they offer that, “Much is said in Christian circles about knowing God. But Christians throughout the ages have agreed that there cannot be deep knowledge of God without deep knowledge of the self. Discerning your true self is inextricably related to discerning God’s purposes for you. Paradoxically, the more you become like Christ, the more you become authentically yourself.” In the book Benner writes,
“Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. Making this knowledge the foundation of our identity — or better, to be re-formed around this most basic fact of our existence — will also never happen instantly. Both lie at the core of the spiritual transformation that is the extended outcome of Christ-following.
“Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened. I only know Divine unconditional, radical and reckless love for me when I dare to approach God just as I am. The more I have the courage to meet God in this place of weakness, the more I will know myself to be truly and deeply loved by God. And the more deeply I know this love, the easier it will be to trust it as Christ did — preferring God’s will to my own.” 51-52
An earlier book is also excellent: Spiritual Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction. I have read most of the book over the past six months or so. One of the unique components of this latter work is a chapter on spiritual accompaniment in marriage.
David Benner has his own website HERE
For a listing of all Canadian authors reviewed here see the REVIEWS link at the top of this page.