On a Sunday afternoon this past January, Minnesota Contemplative Outreach sponsored an event called “Praying with the Eyes of the Heart.” We gathered at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and began with centering prayer and then went in groups of four into the museum; each group guided by a “museum sage.”
There were 50 of us—ten guides and 40 participants. I loved the experience for several reasons. First, it was exciting to see who chose to come to this event. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would go. I also knew I would invite two artist friends who also practiced centering prayer. They both agreed to come and so did 37 other people. Some of the people who came were Minnesota Contemplative Outreach “regulars,” but others were people with a centering prayer practice and a curiosity about how centering prayer could connect with art.
As we gathered there was a certain light heartedness, perhaps a playful expectation to be surprised. We began our session of centering prayer in a large oval in the community room; then we broke into groups of four with each group assigned to a guide. Our guide instructed us each to think of a question that we had been grappling with—something we had been thinking about and were seeking an answer. Once we each had a question, our group went out into the museum. We were going to take turns considering our question with a work of art. The first to volunteer was told to close her eyes and take the guide’s arm as he lead her through the various galleries. He instructed her to tune into her senses of hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting until he brought her to a particular work of art. Then we gathered around her as the guide helped her observe the piece of art in terms of her question. The rest of us watched and listened. Eventually, the person shared her question and the guide invited us to join in the process by sharing our thoughts and observations.
That was the process, but the experience was so much more. As we each took our turn bringing our own question to a work of art, the others stood behind us listening to us, exploring with us, looking for insight to the question we had posed. In the end, the experience felt like stepping out of the usual, taking a chance on something new with four other people standing around you guiding you with their love.
After each person in our group had a turn, we quietly walked back to the community room. There we gathered with the other groups to share our experience. We had all been on an adventure—exploring with a team of friends. Now we each had a new friend—a specific work of art that finds its home at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. And my old friends?—we share the memory of this time together to pray and to open ourselves to each other in a unique way.