URC :: Spirituality

broadening and deepening prayer
United Reformed Church Spirituality articles:

Praying with a painting — 1

Mark Argent, painting by Elizabeth Gray King
4 September 2019

Elizabeth Gray King Communion, Eucharist, Last supper

This painting is Elizabeth Gray King’s Communion, Eucharist, Last supper. What is the journey of prayer it offers?

As abstract

One way of praying with it would be to treat the painting as an abstract image and sit with it, claiming the freedom to see whatever appears in it. There are some strong hints about the painting in its title and in the shapes that are recognisable, but sometimes the obvious gets in the way of what we are invited to see.
People often talk of meditation as “clearing the mind”, as if that were easy to do. Strangely it often seems enough to try: as if the point is not in fact to stop thinking, but that choosing to give some space to God without telling God what to say enables us to be open enough to receive.

Many meditation traditions encourage people to focus on something, perhaps a mantra or some beads, in order to move past it, as if withdrawing focus from everything else, and then letting go of the thing being focused on and enter a deeper stillness.

Focusing on the painting, and then moving past it can be a way of entering a deeper stillness. Yet one of the ironies of the silent space beyond words and images is that, in the deep stillness, there are many images. It is as if the emptiness speaks. In a curious way, if the prayer begins by letting the image be abstract, the stillness lets things be seen in it, putting us in touch with a deeper richness. It is to ask “What is God inviting me to see in this?” rather than “What do I see?” The photo on the opposite page is in black and white, but it is possible to let it let the mind’s eye supply the colour: what is the mind’s eye offering in praying with the painting?

Engaging with the story

Though it is not so obvious when it is reproduced, the painting is actually strips of canvas held in a frame. The sense is that the communion which should hold us together is that which truly divides.

What is in the painting that wouldn’t be in words used to explore communion?

People talk of the sacraments as touching in symbols what is not so easy to express in words: what does the symbolism of the painting offer?

The painting would have a very different character if the strips of canvas were not separated: might the experience of God on offer be richer because there are gaps and spaces?

What is the invitation of the painting?