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Do you want to go deeper in prayer?

Do you appreciate art but aren’t sure how it can benefit your spiritual life? If so, you should consider trying visio divina! Similar to lectio divina, the practice of praying with Scripture, visio divina uses sacred art and images to facilitate a meditative and powerful prayer experience. 

In this article, you’ll learn what visio divina is and how to pray with it. You’ll also be equipped with practical ways to incorporate this practice into your prayer life. Keep reading and get ready to enjoy the spiritual fruits of visio divina!


The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

What Is Visio Divina?

Translated from Latin, visio divina means “divine seeing.” It’s the practice of praying with a sacred image or work of art. By incorporating art into prayer, visio divina invites us to bring our sense of sight as well as our imagination into our relationship with God. Visio divina thus takes on an incarnational nature, affirming the goodness of how we visually encounter the world and inviting us to a similar encounter in the spiritual life.


The Dream of Saint Joseph by Philippe de Champaigne, 1642–3, The National Gallery, London, UK

How to Pray Visio Divina

The steps of praying visio divina mirror those of lectio divina, with an additional step of first viewing the art:

  1. Visio: Looking at the image
  2. Meditatio: Being attentive to God’s Word
  3. Oratio: Praying from the heart
  4. Contemplatio: Resting in God’s presence
  5. Actio: Asking God how to live out this prayer

You’ll find brief directions for each step below. As you consider their accompanying reflection questions, remember that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Simply notice what comes up during your time of prayer, and talk to God about it.

1. Visio: Take a few minutes just to look at the art and “sit with it.” Notice what stands out to you in the image. Is it a specific character? A facial expression? An interaction between two or more characters in the scene? Do you relate to any of them?

2. Meditatio: Be attentive to God’s Word as you meditate on it. If there is a Scripture passage that relates to the image you’re praying with, read that now. Is there a word, a phrase, or a theme that strikes you from the passage?

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622, Pomeranian State Museum, Greifswald, Germany

3. Oratio: Pray from your heart in conversation with God. Reflect on what stood out to you in the image and/or the Scripture passage, and talk to God about it. Is there something he’s speaking to you through these?

4. Contemplatio: Pause your conversation with God and simply rest in his presence, knowing that you are his beloved child.

5. Actio: Ask God how to put the fruits of your prayer into action. How is he calling you to live out what you’ve learned during this time of prayer?

For example, perhaps an image of the Annunciation challenged you to surrender to God an area of fear or anxiety in your life. Or maybe a painting of the Child Jesus in the Temple inspired you to spend more time reading the Bible. Or a depiction of the Crucifixion caused you to consider how you can lay down your life for others in small, daily sacrifices.

With these five steps, you can easily practice visio divina on your own. But if you need more help getting started, you’ll find several tips in the next section.


Saint Joseph and Child by Sofia Novelli, private collection

How to Incorporate Visio Divina into Your Prayer Life

Even with the steps outlined above, it can be daunting to begin a new prayer practice. Here are three ways you can incorporate visio divina into your prayer life. Try one or all three, and choose whatever is most helpful for you on your spiritual journey.

1. Find a piece of sacred art to pray with on your own. Search the internet for sacred images to print, or check out a book from the library. Visit a local church that has sacred art on display, or choose one of the Stations of the Cross to pray with (most parishes have the Stations).

2. Pray visio divina with a group. Gather some friends and pray visio divina together. Choose a piece of art, then guide the group in the meditation while each participant prays individually. Allow time at the end for participants to share any insights they’ve gleaned from their time of prayer if they wish to do so.

3. Pray visio divina on CatholicTV. Visio Divina: Praying with Art is a seven-part series that prays with sacred images from the life of the Holy Family—from the Annunciation to the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. During each episode, the sacred image is displayed while Katie Weiss, host and founder of Behold Visio Divina, guides you through the meditation. Because all episodes are streamable, you can pause at any point you like and take your time praying.

Find all episodes of Visio Divina: Praying with Art on CatholicTV or on YouTube.


Finding Jesus in the Temple by Sofia Novelli, private collection

Ready to Get Started?

The beauty we encounter through sacred art and images can be especially powerful in our prayer lives, and visio divina is designed to facilitate this encounter. If you want to pray in a different way and go deeper in your relationship with God, give visio divina a try!

Find all Visio Divina: Praying with Art episodes on CatholicTV and our YouTube channel.