Prayer art can be a powerful aid in enhancing your prayer times and helping you connect to God. Here are the ways you can use prayer art to become closer to God.
What is prayer art?
I define prayer art as anything an artist or designer has created that shows some aspect of prayer. Prayer art is a subset of religious artwork that specifically focuses on some aspect of prayer. Prayer art can be done in any media. It can be abstract, it can have people in it or it can be made up of symbols and words.
How to find prayer art
Prayer art can be found in churches, art galleries, sculpture gardens and gift stores. You can purchase prayer art in thrift stores, antique stores, Christian bookstores, in home decor stores and at garage sales. Or you might even find a piece in a relative’s home or attic.
A classic example of prayer art is the picture of “The Praying Hands” done by German artist Albrecht Durer in 1508. Another classic example is the picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane done in 1890 by German artist Heinrich Hofmann.
A modern example of prayer art is The Praying Cowboy. You can buy nearly anything and everything with Praying Cowboy artwork on it online or in gift shops in the Western US.
Use prayer art as a reminder of God’s presence
Having a piece of prayer art in your home can be a good visual way to remind you that God is present as you prayer, no matter what situation you might find yourself in.
As an example, The Praying Coal Miner sculpture I purchased at a block sale in Baltimore is a very strong reminder of God’s presence when we pray. I found out online that the artist James England did coal sculptures in the 1970‘s and most of his other works aren’t specifically religious, creating figures of a coal miner or his wife.
In this sculpture, England carved a large figure of Christ with his arm draped around the kneeling coal miner. The coal miner seems to be leaning into Christ, supported by him and physically kept upright and balanced by Christ. The miner’s eyes are closed and he’s looking downward, so it’s obvious that he is feeling rather than seeing with his eyes the supporting presence of Christ.
Use prayer art to help you remember to pray
Prayer art can also serve as a visual reminder to you to pray. It’s amazing how often we forget to pray but instead go about trying to solve our own problems, making our own decisions and worrying about our troubles without pausing to get in touch with God in prayer.
As an example of how prayer art can help us remember to pray, The Praying Cowboy salt and pepper shaker holder sits on my kitchen table and helps me remember to pray and gift thanks to God for the food on our table. It also reminds me that even strong, independent people like all of us are in need of the divine help that comes through prayer.
Use prayer art as a means of prayerful meditation
Prayer art can also be used as a form of visio divina which is using artwork as a means of meditation. In visio divina, you approach the artwork meditatively in order to discover God’s personal message to you. You begin by meditating on the part that most captures your attention and ask yourself why this has drawn you. After you have done this you then look carefully at the prayer art, noticing details, colors, composition and the truth or story being told.
As an example I’ll tell you about two of my meditational interactions with The Praying Coal Miner.
The first thing that captured my attention was that it was shiny and completely black. When I asked about the piece, the lady selling it told me it had been carved out of a lump of coal. As I meditated later, it seemed highly unusual that someone had used this medium to make a sculpture. I thought about how coal miners get really black from coal dust and I thought about how the same thing must have happened to the hands that carved this sculpture. Making this sculpture must have been a messy process, just like life.
Then I thought about how this figure of Christ had emerged little by little out of a dark piece of rock usually destined for fuel for burning and by itself as a single lump of coal had little value. It emerged from the darkness of underground mines to become the figure of Christ on which light could shine.
As far as doing a detailed look at the sculpture itself, I did this on several different occasions, seeing something new each time. It was on the fourth close look that I finally noticed that the artist had embedded the traditional wounds of the crucifixion on the backs of Christ’s hands where the spikes were driven through his hands during the crucifixion. One hand is resting palm down on the coal minter’s shoulder. The other hand is resting palm down on Christ’s own flexed leg.
These visible wounds told me that the artist was portraying Jesus as both the resurrected Christ who triumphed over death and also as the suffering Christ, who understood whatever specific personal agony the praying coal miner was praying about.
I thought about how dangerous coal mining can be. Perhaps the coal miner might be trapped in a caved in mine and might be praying for rescue. Christ’s wounds offered the reassurance that whether the miner made it out of the mine dead or alive, Christ would be there with him.
Use prayer art to discover a new truth about your life and your prayers
Prayer art can be used by the Holy Spirit to lead you into new insight and understanding. These might include a new understanding of what prayer is, how God relates to us in prayer or some new level we can aspire to in prayer.
Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane by Hofmann is an example of how prayer art can lead us into a new truth about prayer. In this prayer art, the artist uses light and dark to help us feel the emotional turmoil Jesus felt when asking God to spare him from having to die on the cross. It instructs us on determination in facing the terrible tug of war between good and evil that goes on during our own prayer times.
Use prayer art to bring Scripture to life.
Prayer art often has a scriptural backdrop, such as in Jesus in Gethsemane that depicts the events of Mark 14 :32-35. However sometimes the scriptural background can be a little less obvious but still discernible if you are well acquainted with the Bible.
As an example, here are some Bible verses that came to my mind while mediating with The Praying Coal Miner sculpture.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (enemies), for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV)
“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV)
More Christian Meditation ideas
For more ideas on Christian meditation, see the following articles:
Copyright Karen Barber 2017. All rights reserved.