Visio Divina: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

We invite you to do the practice of Visio Divine. This is an ancient practice of looking contemplatively at an object, photograph or work of art and allowing God to speak to us or reveal something through it. It is, in essence, a bodily prayer lead by our eyes. Sometimes, the visual is combined with a text or scripture, as we will experience below.  

We will use Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “The Annunciation” for our prayer and Luke 1: 26-38 as our text. Please have the painting before you as we begin. The text is provided for you below. 

Preparing Ourself

Find a quiet place and a comfortable seated position, preferably with both feet on the ground. 

Acknowledge that the Triune God is present with you. 

“God, you are here
and I am here.”

Ask for the Lord’s companionship as you enter into this time of prayer. 

How are you feeling in your body? How are you feeling in your mind? Where do your thoughts go now that your mind is at rest?  Bring all of those things to God and “come home” in God’s presence. 

Gazing Together

Spend 3-5 minutes looking at “The Annunciation” (You may use a timer if that helps). You and God are gazing together at this painting. Try to maintain a contemplative attitude of only looking rather than concentrating on verbal thoughts. If your mind becomes distracted, gently return to your prayerful focus on the painting. 

Inviting the Text

Spend 3-5 minutes with a contemplative gaze. This time, you may allow the words of the text to come to mind as you gaze with God. Before returning to the work please read the following passage. It is from Luke 1:26-38.

    Now in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth, a city in Galilee. To a woman there named Mary, who was a virgin. She was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, one of the descendants of David. Gabriel having coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, greatly favored one! The Lord is with you." 
    But Mary was very confused by this statement, and wondered what kind of greeting this was. 
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great, and He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will also reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
    Mary said to the Angel, "How will this be, since I am still a virgin?"
    The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason, this holy child will be called the Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth has herself conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called infertile is now in her sixth month. For with God nothing will be impossible."
    Mary proclaimed, "I am a servant of the Lord. May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her.

Closing Questions

After this, prayerfully ask yourself the following questions:

  • What feeling does this painting elicit in you?
  • What do you like about this painting? Is there anything that disturbs or concerns you?
  • Speak to the Lord about what you are feeling or sensing. 
  • What might God be speaking to you through this work of art?

Image Credits
Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner from 1898 in Paris. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.