Otis & Friends 1I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

Remember my friend Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, who I introduced you to last month? She is a writer, nature-lover and frequent participant in the Seeing IS Believing: Visio Divina program that takes place twice a month at Prairiewoods. Here she tells us about Visio Divina, or holy seeing …

I drive down from rural Cedar Falls for the Visio Divina sessions on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Prairiewoods. These sessions, guided by Rodney Bluml, are two hours of prayer using an illumination and an accompanying verse from The Saint John’s Bible. I know that quiet prayer happens elsewhere on the property, but not from ten to noon on alternate Tuesdays. Our group of seekers includes artists, writers, readers, and prayer warriors who collaborate in a wide-ranging dialogue with the Word. God inspires us with creative interpretations, uncanny wisdom, and honest reflections about our faith.

The Saint John’s Bible is exquisite testimony: terrific writing and remarkable illustrations presented with excellence fit for the King. Artists cooperated for more than a dozen years to reinvent the handmade treasure for our new century, blending the traditional crafts of the monastic scribes of the middle ages with the book arts skills of the modern era. Even when distorted in pixelated projections onto the electronic screen, the images accomplish the artists’ desire to communicate a true message from God.

Visio Divina, or divine seeing, is one of several disciplines used for spiritual formation, such as worship, fasting, solitude, silence, service, prayer, or study. Visio Divina joins prayer with Bible study in an active process, a group effort to enter the presence of God with teachable hearts. Each encounter with a Bible story, even a familiar one, is a way God comes to us. Each of us receives the Spirit differently. Our prayer is our conversation and we listen in while God gives individualized hope, encouragement, counsel, or direction. It’s one of those hundred-fold divine benefits of community when we hear God speak through each other.

A logical extension of this spiritual practice is to see things in new ways. Without my conscious intention, God’s shaping force through Visio Divina keeps transforming me. Many ah-ha moments connect me to the Spirit, like the other day when I realized something that now seems so obvious, I’m surprised I didn’t “see it” earlier. I’ve been using two troubling pictures from 1955 in an intensive memoir writing project over the past five years. Now I see information in these pictures that I couldn’t perceive before. I couldn’t see what I couldn’t even look at. These revelations are fruits of the Spirit looking at hard things with me that grew through my practice of Visio Divina.

Marianne Abel-LipschutzNo matter what mood I arrive in, I leave our sessions with a sense of revival and wonder. The deep fellowship, the delicious lunch, the laughter and silence, our songs and stories, everything draws me closer to God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. I keep the printed librettos, with the illumination on one side and the verse on the other, in a binder. When I travel, I pick out a few sheets from my bootleg bible for daily devotions or spiritual fellowship. These sheets prove God’s sustainability, a simple renewable resource of word and image that keeps the Spirit alive.

Our prayers over each other and our lives in God touch me the most when I come to Prairiewoods. If I miss a Tuesday, I think of the circle of intent and focus myself for a few moments of prayer. How blessed we are to openly share the surprise and mystery and heartache of our days where peace and transformation are the norm. Not every place is as sacred as Prairiewoods, but I feel grateful that we can see the hope in the world more clearly after simply being here.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant