Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner–Book Review

I’m not an especially visual person, and I haven’t had much training in art, so this book was a bit of a stretch for me, but a good one.  Author Juliet Benner worked for years as a docent in an art gallery, where she felt her work was “teaching people how to really see what they were looking at.”  When she subsequently became a spiritual director, she realized the potential benefit in showing people how to “read” works of art — especially religious art–as a meditation on a passage of Scripture.  This book features ten different paintings with a chapter on each one which walks the reader through this process

Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer

Each exercise includes reading the biblical text slowly, looking at the painting, trying to notice and enter into the scene, and concluding with questions for reflection. I used the questions for journaling.  At the end of the book there are suggestions for leading a discussion group with this method, or using it as part of spiritual direction.

I have to admit, I was amazed at how much I missed in examining a painting.  Ms.  Benner’s interpretations are very detailed.  She really does “read” the art.  So, it was an education for me in a technique that doesn’t come naturally.

VERDICT:  3 STARS.  I’m not sure this would ever become an easy or frequent method of prayer for me (I’m more of a word person);  but if you’re an art lover you may really enjoy using this as a form of prayer.  I would encourage everyone to at least give it a try–it’s always good to expand our horizons!

For more on art as prayer see:

Praying with Art

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Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

If you enjoyed Garlough’s Sensible Shoes series, you’ll love this book also.  It centers around Wren Crawford, a young woman suffering from anxiety, depression and panic attacks.  She lives in Kingsbury, about ten years after the events of Sensible Shoes.  You will once again meet Hannah, Mara, and Charissa and get some updates on their lives.  You will also learn the back story of their spiritual director, Katherine, who turns out to be Wren’s Aunt Kit.

If you or a loved one has suffered from mental illness, you will be able to emphasize with Wren and her family.  This is another story about surrendering to God — surrendering when life spirals out of control, or when we feel helpless to change the suffering and anguish experienced by someone else’s pain. How do we come alongside, yet still establish boundaries?  It’s also about unanswered questions and how to go forward in our lives when difficult circumstances lack closure.

Wren’s story is interwoven with excerpts from the letters, art and life of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, as well as the biblical concept of Jesus as “the man of sorrows.”  It introduces the spiritual practice of visio divina –inviting God to speak to our heart as we contemplate an image.

I was disappointed that this book did not include any specific spiritual exercises or a study guide at the end.  There is a list of recommended resources with organizations that can help with mental illness as well as books on suicide, grief, the art of Vincent van Gogh and spiritual formation.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This book spoke to me on so may levels.  I highly recommend it.

If you haven’t read the other books by Sharon Garlough Brown see these reviews:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

A Book about Surrender

An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review