Praying with pictures: The “Day by Day Deck”

Looking for the perfect gift for a parent, pastor or Sunday school teacher? Consider the "Day by Day Deck" — an inter-generational tool for praying with pictures.

If liturgy is truly the “work of the people,” then the “work” of liturgical art belongs to us all. How can we all be co-creators with God in our lives and homes — as well as in our churches?

A new visio divina tool puts the work in the hands of children and their grown-ups. Elizabeth Caldwell and Mollie Donihe Wilkerson’s “Day by Day Deck: God, Me, and the World” is a fresh take on the ancient practice of “seeing with God” or praying with pictures. Each of the 32 cards features a photo of Wilkerson’s textile art depicting a liturgical season or holy day, sacrament, prayer prompt, or image to spark wondering and imagining.

The cards are whimsical and inviting; an “oops” card, for example, uses a charming image of spilled milk with the words, “mistakes happen.” The accompanying question “What would you do over?” reminds young readers to learn from their mistakes, not agonize over them. Other prayer cards (“thanks,” “gimme” and “wow”) similarly encourage reflection that naturally leads children to talk with God. Numerous other cards are open-ended, even blank, so that users may create their own.

Lindsay Harren-Lewis, a pastor with Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Ohio, uses these as colorful conversation starters for children’s sermons. “I showed one picture and every child had something different to say!” she describes. With younger children, those comments are often “spot on,” filled with questions and stories that clearly relate to the image. Older children, she says, may be more likely to use the image as a “jumping-off point” for wondering and storytelling.

Harren-Lewis imagines using visio divina in her church’s intergenerational retreat this fall, helping all ages connect. “Rather than say ‘tell me a story,’ I might show one of these pictures and ask, ‘tell a story about this picture.’ That can bring out stories we wouldn’t otherwise tell, and those stories lead to connections. We find some commonality between a second grader and an 85 (year-old).”

My teenage son and I playfully discussed the image of a teddy bear and its accompanying statement, “When you’re sad, you can ask God to hold you tight like you hold a stuffed animal.” Most 14-year-olds are unlikely to reminisce with mom about their childhood “stuffies,” but, as Harren-Lewis suggests, these images draw out stories and memories that we might not otherwise share. I retrieved long-forgotten memories of a stuffed animal that comforted me during the roommate squabbles of my first days in college while my son imagined which stuffed animals (if any) might accompany him one day.

Just as a deck of playing cards offers numerous games, I found myself playing “solitaire” as – in the quiet of an early morning – I traced the tactile image of a sun with my finger. Moments later, the cards led to a spirited game at the family breakfast: “There’s a dove — is that Noah’s Ark?  No! It’s the empty tomb … This one looks like a Kanye West cover (insert lengthy explanation to mom of how Kanye’s faith informs his music — priceless).

While the artwork and language are accessible to all, there’s nothing childish here. There is, instead, a child-like sense of wonder. The “Day by Day Deck” will join me in confirmation class this year, perhaps as an “early arriver” activity or on retreats. As Harren-Lewis is considering, a deck might find its way into Advent bags for families. I suspect it will also find its way into my car, and often to the dinner table, creating sacred space and inviting holy conversations in the midst of the day-to-day.

Purchase the deck here.