We’ve developed a tradition here at The Well where each summer we offer something a little different to our audience — something to support the work of rest, restoration, and preparation that we hope is part of the season’s different rhythms.
This year we are offering our Summer 2021 Visio Divina Series. You can read more about this practice in our introduction to the series. Today, we'll take a close look at a piece by artist Mary Cassatt.
Mary Cassatt, Reading “Le Figaro," (1878; Collection Mrs. Eric de Spoelberch, Haverford, Pennsylvania) Oil on Canvas. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Week 6: Reading “Le Figaro”
Questions for visio divina
- As you begin, take a few deep breaths. While we know God is always with us, invite the Holy Spirit to be present and to speak to you afresh in these moments. Spend some time looking at the image. What do you see? Similar to doing Bible study, make as many observations as you can. What do you like or dislike? Why? What questions do you have?
- How does the artist use color, light, style, composition, and material? What do you think the artist wanted to communicate? What stands out to you? Why do you think this is so?
- Read Psalm 19:7-14. How does this add to what you are seeing? Is there other Scripture that comes to mind?
- Spend some time reflecting on the Scripture passage and looking again at today’s image. What is God’s invitation to you? What might you need to see, understand, or believe? How does your current life experience intersect with what you are seeing and reflecting on? How might this image help you pray today? What do you want to say to God? Ask from him?
Scripture passage: Psalm 19:7-14
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
As I considered what artists and pieces to feature in this summer series, I wanted to include a number of women. Mary Cassatt made sense since she holds her own among her male peers as a great Impressionist painter. For this reflection, I focus not on Cassatt’s technique or composition as I have with other artists, but instead I reflect primarily on her subject matter. Much of the content of her early work features women, children, and domestic spaces typical for them in their day. Reading “Le Figaro” is regarded by many as a shift in her work, not stylistically, but in terms of the activity of her subjects. No longer participating in “women’s work,” they subtly reflect a growing advocacy in the public discourse for education of women and the recognition of valuing their intellectual capabilities. So, it turns out, a woman reading a paper was a provocative statement.
Seeing this today would be unusual as well, but for different reasons. It’s been years since I held an actual newspaper Evidently, newspaper circulation is at an all time low. After peaking in the 70’s it has been on a steep decline since the mid-2000’s — and 2020 was no different. More and more of us are getting our news online and while that may be handy, it’s also a bit dangerous because we can be much more selective in what news we consume and from which sources we consume it.
I don’t know about you, but there have been many days recently when I just don’t even want to check the news. I’d rather stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head or put my metaphorical fingers in my ears and sing “La la la” as loudly as I can. But my reticence to face the goings-on in the world doesn’t eliminate or change them. And my theological convictions force me to open my eyes and engage in this world that God has made and is even now at work to redeem.
So, as Karl Barth suggested, I pick up a newspaper in one hand and my Bible in the other and I let the wisdom of the Scripture inform the way I think about and respond to what’s going on in the world.
Psalm 19 tells me that the word of God renews and refreshes me even as it gives me wisdom, clarity, and direction. Scripture offers an eternal perspective and reminds me of my own limited and often tunneled vision. The Psalms themselves are a helpful model as I wonder how to react to all I see happening. Some days I celebrate the good things — “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!” Other days I sit in lament — “How long, LORD, how long?” The Scripture teaches me about God’s will and ways. Scripture directs my prayers, inviting me to ask the Father for his will to be done on earth even as it is in heaven.
How about you? How are you reacting these days to all that is going on in your world? In our wider world? How is the Scripture shaping the way you interpret what you are seeing and hearing? How is it influencing your response?Amid all the challenges of the last year-plus, one of the most grounding practices of my week is gathering to pray with women faculty, students, and professionals. Informed and guided by the Word of God, we pray into and out of the circumstances we face in our labs, our departments, our offices, and our classrooms. Together we praise God, we confess, we lament, we celebrate, and we petition. We trust our time of prayer is one way we join with him in his work of redemption.
Thank you God for your word. Thank you that we have not been left wondering who you are and what it means to be your people. Nurture within us a love for your word which revives our souls and makes us wise. Help us by your Spirit and through your word to live fully engaged in the world. Protect us from cynicism, apathy, and despair. Teach us to pray and grant us eyes to see the places where your light is piercing the darkness. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Where is God drawing your vision today? Take a photo and share your thoughts using our hashtag — #visiowell — on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.