Novices learn about praying with art

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Spirituality through visual images was the theme of a recent gathering of novices and their formation directors.  Eleven participants from different congregations came together for two days of  ‘Prayer with Pictures’ led by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ.  They were invited to explore their own experience of praying with art and also how they might guide others in this. The group was composed of first and second year novices from the Jesuits, the Congregation of Jesus and the Mercy Sisters and they met at the Jesuit novitiate, Manresa House, in Birmingham. The Holy Family was one of the pictures the group looked at together:

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One of the participants, Leona Fernandes, CJ, described the experience as  lively and prayerful: “Fr. Dries provided input on praying with paintings, sketches, sculptures and other artwork using Ignatian contemplation as a model for entering into prayer and reflection. There was also plenty of time for the novices to get to know each other, pray together, as well as to visit the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham. The novices found it to be a very edifying and joyful time together and we are looking forward to the next session in February.”

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A second year novice with the Sisters of Mercy,  Nicole Keenan,  described the gathering as very constructive but also challenging on a personal level –  “as anyone who knows me, know art and I do not go together!”   Reflecting on the encounter with art in a deeper sense though, Nicole added: “Fr Dries presented the sessions gently and in a non-threatening way.  We were presented with different pieces of art, given time to reflect privately how the piece spoke to us and then share with the group if we wished. I learnt so much and look at art differently now.  I also learnt so much from my peers by their responses!.....Since I have been attending these gatherings various topics have been covered, all of which have been beneficial for me and my vocational journey.  I have also enjoyed connecting with others on their journey.  We have the space and time to chat amongst ourselves and I know this helps me as much as the input provided.  I am grateful for these gatherings and would encourage other congregations who have postulants and/or novices to attend.”

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Desmond Gibney SJ is a first year Jesuit novice from the Irish province and is based at Manresa House. He also particularly appreciated the opportunity to meet others in the early stages of their vocational life: “As an all-male Jesuit community, it was great to be able to share stories and experiences of novice life with Sisters. The walk to the Barber Institute highlighted another feature of life as a Jesuit novice that we have come to accept in the short time we've been in the novitiate: after a few wrong turns on the walk to the gallery, some of our female colleagues took out a strange device we had almost forgotten existed: smartphones with Google Maps! At the art gallery, we each picked out a painting that we liked and then explained what we saw in the painting that resonated with us. Overall, the inter-novitiate gathering was a pleasant break from our usual routine and we enjoyed the chats over coffee in our garden; we made promises to renew acquaintance again and maybe even consider a visit our newly-discovered colleagues in places such as York!”

The next meeting is scheduled for February 27/28, 2019. The theme is celibate chastity. For further details, contact: sarahdobsoncj@gmail.com