Learning to Listen

One of the reasons I value art for worship is because it helps me to clear a wordless space to listen for His voice. Wordlessness is difficult for me. Henri Nouwen says that sometimes attempting to pray in silence, his mind becomes filled with a banana tree of hungry monkeys! That metaphor always makes me smile because I can relate. Using art has been a productive way to begin to train and discipline my mind so that prayer can be a conversation rather than a monologue, or an exercise in list-making (all things I have been prone to do).

My friend, Jo Reimer,  a brilliant collage artist, has a series that I want to share with you. She has given me permission to use her work in this way. Today we are going to practice using art to worship. The series is titled Sermon Notes, a collection of 51 pieces, that can be found here.

When I use art for worship I tend to go through these stages: I notice that I am drawn to a particular piece; I prayerfully consider the elements that drew me in; I listen for what the Holy Spirit has for me; I spend time in silence with Him.  Here is an example from my prayer notebook of how I used Jo’s  piece entitled “Truthful.”

"Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.

"Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.


 I am drawn—The colors in this are provocative. Blue and orange, peace and boldness, are side-by-side. I am attracted by the word—TRUTHFUL. How perfect! Truth is provocative. There is an element of peace and an element of boldness to it.

 I come—When I think about “truth” I am filled with feelings of safety and peace. Lord, I thank you that I can trust You. That You speak the Truth—that you are Truth. In You there is no guile, no deceit. No room for lies. I can rest safely in You, and I praise You for that. I DO trust You. I want to worship You in spirit and in Truth. Lord, what am I withholding from You? Am I being truthful before You? Am I coming to You pretending to be something I am not? Truth isn’t all safety and peace, is it? It is provocative and confrontational. Here I am—examine me.

 I listen—At this point I put down the pen and listened. At first there was only silence, but soon the Lord brought to my mind several fears that I needed to release to Him. I attempted to obey and entrust my fears to Him. I then remained quietly present in the moment. Heart speaking to heart.

If you would like to use Jo's work as a starting point for worship, choose a time and place free of distractions. It can be helpful to some people to journal during this exercise. If you are one of these people, be ready with paper and pen (but also be willing to put your pen down when needed). Click here to go to Jo Reimer's flicker page. Scroll through her various pieces and notice which one you are drawn to. Click on it to enlarge and then prayerfully consider the piece. Use the following questions as a guide as long as they serve you:

Why am I drawn to this piece?

Consider/journal what it is about this work that draws you to it at this moment.

Come to it. Ask the Holy Spirit to make connections for you, to form a prayer in you.

Listen/Commune. If you find that your mind has wandered, take a moment to offer that stray thought to the Lord, and then settle back into a listening posture.

Give yourself some time to ponder the experience. Give yourself at least 24 hours. Then consider these questions:

Was this a new experience for you?

Did you notice any resistance to the exercise? Where do you think that came from?

In what ways were you called?

Can you use this technique of noticing what draws your attention, asking the Holy Spirit what He might have for you, in another context during your day?

Once you start to practice noticing and listening, it will become a habit. It will become the beginning of "praying without ceasing."