How Artists Pray

by Joe Cory

“… one of His disciples said to Him, Lord teach us to pray…” Luke 11:1 

I have been a Christian for almost twenty-five years (I have the badge to prove it), and if I am honest, I find prayer to be the most difficult of the spiritual disciplines to practice. It has never come easy. Growing up, my grandfather blessed the meals on Easter and Christmas, and I remember praying with my teacher when the Challenger exploded, but I wouldn’t call those experiences formative. I discovered my faith through a rowdy group of Evangelicals (I still wear that badge, too), so the emphasis on an active “prayer life” runs deep. 

Over time, I’ve learned, as with anything, learning to make prayer a regular part of your day takes discipline and practice. As an artist, I understand those concepts all too well, which makes me appreciate my High Church, Catholic, and Orthodox brothers and sisters’ liturgical traditions. I’ve also learned that whether my prayers are part of a formal time alone with God or quick breath prayers said in the rush of a busy day, God honors these attempts to find fellowship with Him. 

The Angelus (L’Angélus), Jean-Francois Millet, 1859, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France,
55.5 x 66 cm

The 19th-century French artist Jean-François Millet’s painting “The Angelus” serves as an excellent reminder for those of us who struggle with the discipline of prayer. The picture depicts two rural peasants (a man and woman) at the end of the long workday who’ve stopped their work in the field to pray the Angelus prayer. The Catholic prayer, which commemorates the Angel Gabriel’s revelation to Mary about the coming birth of Christ, was traditionally signaled by ringing church bells— Millet once asked a friend who was viewing the painting if he could hear the bells. The short prayer is repeated three times at the beginning, middle, and end of the workday, and it functions to remind us of God’s incarnate nature and sacred calling He’s placed on each of our lives. 

As artists, we are like Millet’s humble peasants in conversation with God. Without God, our daily work would be meaningless, and without regular prayer and reading of scripture, we cannot nourish the life of God in us. Prayer has the powerful ability to shape us into His image, but it takes work on our part. We have to step outside of our busy schedules and find moments in which to convene with Him. I want to invite you to join me in making an intentional effort to strengthen your daily prayer life. Regardless of how this practice looks for you— free-flowing, liturgically led, or something in between— God will bless these efforts as we come to know Him and discern His will for our lives. 

Did you know that today, March 9th, marks the first-ever “CIVA Day of Prayer?” Please join us across our social media channels as we post a prayer prompt in the morning, midday, and evening. We invite you to pray with us and post your prayers in the comments section.    

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Joe Cory is a visual artist, current Board Chair on the CIVA Board of Directors, an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Design at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and also serves as a Faculty Fellow in Samford’s Center for the Worship and the Arts. Using fragmented imagery, he creates paintings, collages, and digital artworks to help him navigate the complex world in which we live. Cory is especially interested in using his work to serve as a reminder of God’s grace amidst a broken world. He exhibits his artwork across the United States and has received numerous grants and awards. He is a member of Shades Valley Community Church (EFCA) where he serves as an Elder. When he is not in the studio or classroom, Joe enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and watching sports.

Instragam: @joecory

2 Responses to How Artists Pray

  1. Thanks, Joe, for you lead in reminding us to pray….
    Oh hear us ImmaAbbaJesusSpirit!
    You are our rock and our salvation, it is you we love, though you first loved us (even when we were unlovable). All praise and thanks to you! You have given us your name.
    We cry to you, out of our need and dependence. We cry to you for healing and strength. We cry to you for wisdom and justice. We cry to you for ears to hear and eyes to see. We cry to you for gifts of love and compassion; for self care, yes, but first to live in a generosity like yours to care for our neighbor as well our nemesis. We cry to you for confidence in expressing through our making those things of beauty that have telltale signs of you, that point to the I AM that you are and all that will be in your new creation. Amen