'Gazing creatively is another way of choosing life.'
On this World Day of the Sick, we are attentive and intercede for people who are suffering ill health, disease and frailties. Today, Mercy impels us to seek out the places where hope can illumine the darkness; where grace transforms through the Paschal mystery of life, death and resurrection.
Let us also pray with God’s invitation to embrace wellness: to treasure health and wellbeing for ourselves, for family, friends and ministry partners, and ultimately for our earth. In an active way, we can hold out the stories of Jesus’ compassionate gaze for the multitudes. We can recall the parable stories that stir the mysterious energy of healing.
For the last thirty years, I have facilitated Human Wholeness Retreats: a wellness retreat ministry that seeks to honor the whole person, body, mind and spirit. Retreatants come from every walk of life. Some want to enhance their gift of life in a spiritual context. Others come struggling with sufferings, challenges, worries, concerns, named or unnamed disease processes.
We are all familiar with considerations affecting a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, prayer, stress reduction, rest, meditation, relaxation, visualization, silence, healthy community and environment. To these, I add creativity as an integral tool for wellness. One path into the creative process is through the meditative practice of Art-Journaling®, a wholistic approach combining visual expression, journal writing and contemplative presence.
Journaling is a healing exercise. Research tells us this. Recent studies suggest its role in strengthening immune cells, and decreasing symptoms of asthma and arthritis. Journaling helps reduce the impact of stress on physical health, and can facilitate restful sleep. It can be a healing tool for those in the darkness of pain, loss and grief. These studies enhance my trust in the narratives that arise from my experience with retreatants in “Writing the Vision Down”.
Developing Art-Journaling with its versatility as a healing tool is the result of ongoing life experiences. My childhood spirituality was influenced by the story of the feast we celebrate today: Our Lady of Lourdes. I attended St. Bernadette of Lourdes school. My classmates and I grew up with an easy familiarity with the image and the story. We knew Bernadette as a friend and companion. This young girl not much older that we were, lived in France, met the Blessed Mother in a field, and, at the beautiful lady’s request, dug at the earth to unleash healing springs of water. As children, we trusted that the divine was present, close to our everyday experience. At any time, the beautiful lady might just appear to any one of us, with a task and a message. The sense of the healing waters of Lourdes was commonplace.
For many years, our pastor came home from his annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, and gave each of us a tiny Mary-shaped bottle filled with the blessed water. Today calls to mind the iconic scene at the grotto at Lourdes, symbol of the intimate encounter of the beautiful lady and the child.
I met the Sisters of Mercy in the eighth year of my education. During their art classes, I discovered I was an artist. A few years later, having caught graced glimpses of their life, I entered the community. In the years that followed, I taught, and then I pursued a Masters in Fine Art. During this course of studies, I discovered art therapy. That propelled me into the field of mental health in hospital ministry, and ultimately to the study of spiritual direction.
In my own prayer, I used art and writing for my personal journal. When my ministry expanded to include a part time position in wellness at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, I began my retreat work in earnest. The design and facilitation of our first weekend Human Wholeness retreat included a creative journaling meditation. That was the beginning of my focused development of Art-Journaling.
In Art-Journaling practice, the combination of art and writing intensifies the experience. But surprisingly, what frequently strikes the retreatants as the most revealing aspect of this prayer is the practice of “creative gazing”.
I invite the journalers to gaze at their work as if it were an icon. I suggest a shift: suspending the usual judgmental mind, and moving to a place of positive regard. They are reminded of times when they experienced this creative seeing: encountering the beauty of nature, looking at the face of a beloved child, moved by visual beauty, transported by the interior gaze of love. As active participants, they notice how we possess the power to choose; to look with a critical glance or with a loving and creative gaze.
I do not think it is too outrageous to propose that such a way of looking at ourselves, at each other, and the world could be an antidote to the chasms that separate us, a way of leaning into the healing of our earth. Gazing creatively is another way of choosing life.
If we consider what we know about Catherine McAuley, prior to her active ministry, she saw the poor. The seeing was creative and healing. It propelled her into planning, doing, walking, founding.
We believe that the gaze of the Creator calls all things to life: Jesus looked with love and had pity; his seeing was transformative.
What do we see that calls out for healing? Where is the chasm into which humanity could cast a creative glance rather than a distaining one of judgment? How might we utilize this creative power we have been given by the Creator, to look on situations, people, each other, and particularly perhaps, ourselves with a gaze that calls to life rather than diminishes? Where are we invited to activate and allow the power of creative healing to form and reform us?
Pay attention to the invitations that arise from your own heart or from some unexpected place. What are you being asked from your deepest inner wisdom as well as from circumstances?
Journal the answer to that non-verbally and verbally, in images and words, and notice what emerges, what stirs, what insights appear in your creative sight.
Messages to: Marianne Hieb rsm
Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling: Learning to See and Record your Life as a Work of Art by Marianne Hieb. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London ( 2005)
Visio Divina, a recently produced video resource, is part of the Institute of the Americas membership engagement process of Women of Mercy, Women of Hope—Year 3. Script is by Marianne Hieb rsm.
Length is (17:45). Two versions: * English version *Spanish Version
Spiritual Directors International Learns From...Rev. Terry Hershey and Marianne Hieb, RSM
Terry Hershey and Marianne Hieb explore spiritual direction and the imagination (09:38; 2011)
Marianne Hieb, RSM, MFA ATR, D. Min. directs the Wellness Spirituality Program at Lourdes Wellness Center in Collingswood, NJ, and is an artist, art therapist, retreat and spiritual director, and author of the book Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling.
She has facilitated workshops at Spiritual Directors International Conferences, and at the Merton International Conference, and has written articles on spirituality and creativity for Presence and other journals. She is a Sister of Mercy of the Mid-Atlantic Community.