This Lent, a couple of members of Godspace are participating in the online Lenten retreat Knowing Jesus organised by the Ignatian Centre for Spirituality (ICS), Glasgow, UK.
A couple of weeks ago, Ann and I were talking about our (then) forthcoming involvement. One of the features of the retreat is a daily email containing, among other things, a painting on which to reflect. I mentioned to Ann that I wasn’t an artist myself, had little knowledge of drawing and painting and had never really meditated on a painting before. “I suppose it is a skill I could learn” was how I expressed it. She replied, “Or, perhaps it is a gift you could receive”.
Her answer made me think and resulted in my daily practice during Lent (so far!) of sitting before the emailed picture and, first of all, remembering that it is the artist’s gift to me and to the wider world. Before I think about its “message”, the colours and other aspects of composition, and whether I “like” it or not, it is a gift. My first response is to be thankful and then, decide, like any gift, how I am going to receive it, enjoy looking at it and/or use it.
I don’t normally think about receiving a gift when I contemplate a pattern of behaviour for Lent but it strikes me as a useful idea. In the last few days, gifts have popped up all over the place – a compliment paid, a walk with a friend in the context of our restricted lives, an unexpected turn in the weather….. and, of course, the ICS Lent material itself which specifically reminds me to ask for a gift each day, the desire of my heart at that particular moment.
And so, I am practising in my own way. I think of the painting as if it were a wrapped Christmas present under the tree waiting to be opened, explored and enjoyed. I click on the picture with anticipation. What is in it? What does it say about the love, character and knowledge of the giver? I take time to “open” the painting and to be thankful for it. I look, with my amateur’s eye, at colour and composition; I try to identify the symbols used; I particularly notice the people, their position and mood, their relationships to one another – is there someone with whom I particularly identify?; the artist’s gestures of humour or odd detail. Above all, I try and think about what God is saying to me through this gift – about me, my life, Jesus.
It is a different practice, gently receiving a daily painting, to my more usual one of giving something up or establishing an extra routine which is “good for me”. But I think it is a helpful one in this particular moment of restriction and (necessary) control of so many aspects of our lives. And, for me, it provides a basis for newly encountering the ultimate gift of God to us expressed in the Good-Friday to Easter Sunday weekend that lies ahead.
Enjoy opening your own gifts today…..