Bob Dylan, ‘Novelist’, 2021. Courtesy the artist.

Visio Divina – ‘Into the present’

Our image is a painting by Bob Dylan entitled “Novelist” from a recent exhibition, Deep Focus, 2021.

Identifying the origins of the paintings of Deep Focus is something of a game, gratifying in the same way that hearing in a Dylan song a line from Homer, Blake or Whitman is gratifying. But that is only the beginning. What matters is what Dylan creates from those lines in his songs, or in Deep Focus from the images. 

In “Novelist” we wonder what the subject is writing, who he is looking at off-screen through that window … whatever he is writing in that notebook.

Deep Focus is often interested not so much in the foregrounded action as in what is going on in the background, off to one side or another …

Film has always been in Dylan’s past. In his early days in Hibbing it was his lifeline to the outside world through the golden years of Hollywood that coincided with his teens. It connected him to the wild west, to ancient Rome, to Shakespeare, to James Dean, Brando and Peck. 

These paintings bring the film and characters of his and our past into the present. 

Just like the scenes he has been creating in song for all these years, those of Deep Focus will keep people busy for years to come – busy not just mechanically or serendipitously identifying the movie scenes that have become his new palette but also pondering the ways he creatively transforms those scenes and brings to our consciousness “the different predicaments that people find themselves in,” as Dylan has said of the series. These paintings form a screenplay for our own situations: “life as it’s coming at you in all its forms and shapes.”

From an essay by Richard F. Thomas, “Dylan Transfigured”, 2021.

Focus reading
Psalm 23

Various responses
The psalm paints a rural/pastoral scene. It seems the template for a novel – a life story or life journey, to and from security, to and from a place of happiness/salvation. There are obstacles and challenges along the way. The final line presents an image of God’s house.

The painting presents a working-class diner or café. It is dusk, somewhere in the city, cold enough for coats and hats. Under fluorescent light we see three figures, two at a table in the background and one in the front – the titular novelist with pen and notebook.

We note various connections with the psalm: the green light and green chair (vacant/welcoming), the (reflective) table, the cup, the checkerboard floor-tiles (darkness and light), the quiet/peaceful mood.

There’s also the offer of refreshment – food and drink, warmth, safety. “Where is the host?” we wondered. “Are we called to offer hospitality?”

CHRIS: I put myself in the position of the diner, remembering times I’ve gone shopping for food and essential supplies, remembering times I’ve sat by myself in a café or restaurant.

GREG: I contemplate solitude – the novelist is alone but not lonely. Even in our solitude, we are not alone.

ANDREW: I like to work in cafés where there is some stimulation – people smiling or quietly interacting.

ADRIAN: I’m drawn to the couple at the back table. They seem relaxed, used to each other’s company. The scene reminds me of a painting by Vermeer – one artist/artwork pays homage to another.

We were led to share the following prayers
We give thanks for safe places.

We give thanks for those who ensure the safety of others.

We give thanks for affordable food and drink, accessible social space.

God is with us in our solitude.

God offers and invites goodness and mercy.

Next meditation will be June 12, 12pm (thanks to Greg for leading). All welcome in the church and online:

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 828 4637 5215
Password: 895602.

The following guidelines (from can be adapted for different occasions.

Find an image for prayer
You can use any type of image for Visio Divina. You might use images found in your church – a religious painting, a stained-glass window, or an icon.

Prepare your heart for prayer
Before you begin, choose your image and have it visible – either be near it in person or have the image pulled up on your phone or computer.

You may want to begin your time in prayer with a scripture reading. If you’re using a religious image, use the scripture related to that image. Or, use a Scripture from the day’s lectionary reading or just a favourite you want to pray.

Allow the image to speak to your heart
Open your eyes and look at the image you’ve selected. Let your eyes pause and focus on the part of the image they’re first drawn to.

Gaze upon just that part of the image for a minute or two. Then close your eyes, still seeing that part of the image in your mind.

Reflect on the entire image
Open your eyes and now look upon the whole image. Gaze upon all of the image, allowing it to draw forth a word, an emotion, or an image in your heart.

What do you hear God whispering into your heart? What thoughts or questions are raised? What emotions do you feel?

Continue to gaze and reflect as long as you need to, then briefly close and rest your eyes.

Pray through the image
Open your eyes. While looking upon the image, respond to God. Pray through the words, images, emotions, questions and thoughts that are now on your heart.

Continue to look upon the image as you pray. Then, close and rest your eyes briefly.

Rest and reflect in God
As you close out your time in prayer, open your eyes and gaze again upon the image. Rest in God’s presence as you reflect upon this prayer experience.

Consider how you’ll take this into your life. You may choose to journal about your experience.