“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!” (Luke 12:27-28, NRSV)
Jesus was a great teacher. Although Luke 4:16-19 points to Jesus reading scripture in the synagogue, we don't have many other passages that describe him reading. There is plenty of evidence that Jesus knew scripture, and he quoted it often. Even as a young boy, when his family visited Jerusalem and they started traveling home without him, Jesus amazed the Temple authorities with his knowledge of the scriptures until his family retrieved him. We're not sure whether he gained this great wisdom by reading the scriptures for himself or whether he learned from hearing the Torah and the books of the Prophets read in worship. Nonetheless, Jesus knew scripture.
It's interesting that with Jesus' broad grasp of scripture, when he taught his disciples, he used a less formal teaching method. He didn't delve into a text from the Hebrew scriptures with an explanation for what individual words meant, which is one of the ways I like to teach! Instead, in Luke 12, Jesus casually walks along with his disciples in the Galilean countryside, offering them object lessons about "worrying" by pointing out how the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are without worry. He says God knows their needs and meets their needs, and so we, who are of far greater worth to God than these other creatures, also have nothing for which to worry. The disciples seemed to comprehend the full meaning of what Jesus was trying to teach them.
For many years until the advent of the printing press, the Bible was not widely available to be read by those who followed Jesus. They learned by listening to people teach about the scriptures and seeing the Bible stories in stained glass windows. Most of Christian history was transmitted through images rather than through words. This is why spiritual practices that don't rely on words can be an especially powerful way of connecting with God. Meditating on living examples (like birds or lilies) or objects and images (like icons, crosses, and art) can help us connect with God at a level beyond words.
Visio Divina means "divine seeing." It is related to the form of prayer known as Lectio Divina (divine reading). Instead of focusing on scripture, this form of prayer uses visual elements to help set your mind on God. It allows God to speak into your heart through the image. In the same way that considering or meditating on the lilies could help the disciples understand the futile nature of worrying, God can speak to us when we focus on images and other aspects of God's creation and learning God's things.
We'll be talking more about Visio Divina this week as a spiritual practice in our sermon series on Atomic Discipleship. Be sure to join us and invite a friend!