Prayer Walks and Photos: How an Image Spoke a Thousand Words
Back in October, we hosted our first Voice of Courage prayer retreat. During our solo time with Jesus in the middle of the day, I walked the grounds of the retreat center, a beautiful property in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I wandered towards the prayer labyrinth, a prayer path formed in the shape of a circular maze, designed to quiet your heart and open your soul to God’s presence.
In my hand was a photograph.
I had chosen one of the prayer guides we had laid out for the ladies at our retreat. This particular exercise included an array of photographs and reflective questions to ask God while considering our photo.
We were invited to simply grab a photo. Not to think too long or hard about why. Just go with it, and let God reveal something about that photo as you pray.
It’s an interesting exercise, not one I typically make time for. These days, when a photo grabs my attention, it’s typically on Facebook and usually, at most, elicits a “love” button click or a quick comment to embrace a friend.
Rarely do I take the time to really notice a photo or the actual presence of an object or creation that captures my notice. Seldom do I ask why it speaks to me, or invite God to teach me something through it.
What kinds of images, objects, or elements of nature capture your attention?
How do you typically respond?
But in this particular hour, I had that space. I heard his invitation.
He invited me to be quiet, to roam through nature, while the wild, impending storm breezes swirled around me, bundled in a cozy scarf with heart prepared through our morning of worship and scripture reading.
In those moments, I found a renewed awareness of God’s voice. I remembered the ways he speaks through art, questions, and walks in nature.
This wasn’t a magic technique to convince him to make himself known to me. Likely, it had more to do with him preparing my own heart to listen, to silence the noise inside me and around me to really hear his voice.
Evelyn Underhill says something about this. She writes: “Our spiritual life depends on his perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to him. Every time a channel is made for him he comes; every time our hearts are open to him he enters, bringing a fresh gift of his very life, and on that life we depend. We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.”
On that rainy retreat day, this spiritual exercise was just one fresh way to break out of rote prayers and circular concerns, derailing worries and fearful control. A way to dream with him outside the box of my typical expectations and safe aspirations. A chance to respond to him as he pressed upon my soul.
As I wandered through the prayer labyrinth, I kept the photo and questions outstretched in my hands.
He began to speak to my heart through the image I had chosen. It’s the one you see above. A piano. Some words already written in an old historic book, maybe a Bible or a hymnal: ancient testimonies of God’s faithfulness. And fresh, blank pieces of paper and a pen, ready to write something new.
As I prayed about this image and God’s heart for me, I asked him what he wanted to show me.
He began to reassure my heart that there is certainty in his direction. Promises he gives me in scripture that are solid, dependable.
While there are many unanswered questions on this side of eternity, he’s given me so much already through his word: clarity about how to love others, how to respond to adversity, how to ground my identity in him. He provides us with a clear path, with wisdom for those who ask for it (James 1).
And yet, there is also custom revelation and unique callings he is writing by hand for me. An adventure, a unique story of the way each heart will intersect with the story of humanity and God’s redemption (Eph. 2:10, Eccl. 3:11).
Which of these reminders do you resonate with today: the solidity of God’s promises and character across history or the adventure of his unique calling? Which have you lost sight of?
I love the faithfulness God whispers in the first and the adventure he invites in the latter. I am deeply grateful that my Father has a piano open before me with words sung across history, and I am overjoyed that he is writing a new song and placing it in my mouth.
Maybe these specific revelations don’t draw you as much at the moment, but the invitation to find a photo and reflect with Jesus does.
If this is a fresh way for you to embrace his coming in this advent season, maybe that’s a next step, a way to get away for an hour in a busy season and go on an adventure with Jesus.
Here’s one way you can get started:
- Go to unsplash.com. Pick the first photo that stands out to you and save it to your phone or computer. Just make sure it’s handy on a device you can use for your get away.
- Set aside an hour to go for a walk or get cozy in a chair where you will be free of distraction. Have the photo somewhere you can easily view it.
- As you pray and read scripture, consider how this image relates to what God is showing you.
- Ask him to help you see this image with fresh insights, and to perceive, discern, and receive what He would like to speak to you today. Notice the emotions and thoughts that surface. Maybe pause to write these down.
- Ask God, “How are you calling me to respond to this thought and visual phrase today?”
If you want to dream with God about something new, something that’s beginning to take shape on the horizon and you’d like to journey with a coach to get you started, please join us on January 18th for a Facebook Live event. You’ll learn more about our leadership duo and certified life coaches, Jan Kern and Sarah Bond. You won’t want to miss the special coaching packages we’ve designed just for you! Come with your questions about coaching, enjoy free giveaways, and take advantage of our New Year’s coaching discounts! See our Facebook page @voiceofcourage for more!
 Exercise adapted from spiritual formation tool developed by Jan Kern: “Using Images with Prayer.” For more, check out our spring retreat (dates soon to come!) or contact Jan Kern regarding spiritual direction: firstname.lastname@example.org
Love this! I often take pictures myself along my prayer walks but never thought of carrying another photo for prompting. Thanks!
Joy, what a great idea to take a camera along on your prayer walks. It’s amazing to experience God’s self-disclosure in new ways as we intentionally engage him through art and nature. Thank you for sharing!