VISIO DIVINA: NORTHERN NATIVITY REDUX

Hi, my name is Les Miller, author of a new Novalis book called, Northern Light: A Canadian Prayer Book, which is a book of prayers and reflections with accompanying photographs. In it, I use a form of prayer called Vision Divina.

Visio Divina is a way of encountering the sacred using images such as art, such as the photographs I took for Northern Light. Visio Divina means “seeing the divine.” It uses icons and other sacred art to explore God’s presence in our lives. Recently, practitioners of Visio Divina have also been using secular art and nature. Visio Natura can be understood as a sub-genre of Visio Divina, where one contemplates a natural scene to discern the presence of God. Many of the images in Northern Light were the result of Visio Natura of aspects of creation.

Let’s explore the photograph that accompanies “Northern Nativity Redux” on page 38 of Northern Light. This photograph looks up at two maple trees crusted with snow and ice set against a blue sky.

  • Pray in quiet with your eyes closed. Bring yourself towards stillness.
  • Gaze at the image. Let your eyes rest on the scene. Note your feelings as you explore it. What do you notice?
  • Read the prayer “Northern Nativity Redux” (inspired by William Kurelek):

Loving God look tenderly on Canada this holy season.

Look upon Yellowknife longing for a glint of Advent light.

Look upon an Annunciation in Regina where angel greets girl.

Look upon a pregnant teen at the Moncton bus station as she is joyfully greeted by her cousin.

Look upon a dreaming Joseph above his Sudbury workshop.

Look upon the holy couple as they approach Parliament Hill.

Look upon Northern Lights dancing your Gloria.

Look upon Okanagan shepherds awed by your heavens.

Look upon our wisdom figures from the Dene, Haida and Ojibwe.

Look upon a humble shed in east end Montreal underneath the bright lights of a rail sorting yard.

Look upon our refugee family escaping in the night.

Look upon our land in this holy season and give us the eyes to see Christ being born among us.

  • How do you connect the prayer with the photo?
  • Read the explanatory text about Northern Nativity Redux:

Instead of a stable, imagine Jesus being born in a 1950s Canadian service station garage beside the New Bethlehem Motel with a “No Vacancy” sign. This image was painted by Canadian artist William Kurelek who created a series of Nativity paintings set in the Canada of his youth. There are twenty other nativity stories set across Canada in the 1950’s that illustrate his book, Northern Nativity. You see the Holy Family in a soup kitchen in a large city, sightseeing at Niagara Falls, in at a snowy mountain pass, in a Quebec village and in a Newfoundland outport.

Why then did I choose this photograph to illustrate this prayer? The photograph has three zones of colour: white, blue and white again. Kuralek was depicting the Incarnation in our midst in his scenes. In a more abstract way, I was trying to evoke the incarnational meeting of heaven and earth, each represented by the trees. Heaven and earth are connected by the intense blue which is the symbol of Our Blessed Mother Mary. This photograph was taken from the front garden of my home in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Following Kuralek’s lead, I was searching for the incarnation in my home in my part of Canada.

  • If you were to set the incarnation in your own home, where would be the stable? Who would attend the events in your stable?
  • How is the sacred present to you in this Visio Divina?
  • How does this Visio Divina relate to your life now? How does the pandemic change your Christmas prayers?
  • What insight from this experience do you want to retain? How will you do that?
  • Complete the Visio Divina by offering a prayer of thanksgiving.

Northern Light: A Canadian Prayer Book can be found and purchased here.

Les Miller retired as Religious Education, Family Life and Equity Coordinator with the York Catholic District School Board and then taught at OISE (University of Toronto), York and Niagara universities. He has written or contributed to more than 20 books in the area of spirituality and Catholic education. Currently he is involved with catechist formation with the Archdiocese of Toronto. Visit his website at lesmiller.ca

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