From slide carousels to iPhoto, images bring Scripture to life
By Richard Roos, MDiv
I recollect that I learned of the effectiveness of visuals back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when introduced to the use of slide meditations by Father Eugene Boracic, CP, as he conducted evenings of recollection at St. Paul Retreat House in Pittsburgh, PA. He incorporated slides and slide meditations, even as part of chapel services.
Even before being ordained in the late 1970s, sensing the effective use of visuals and photography being my hobby, I started my own library of 35mm slides. Over the years, I accumulated more than 4,000 slides, which I indexed in a notebook. When I would attempt to produce a slide meditation, I would choose either a Scripture or music recording that was rich in visuals. I would have to look through pages and pages of my catalogued 35mm slides index binder just to find possible selections to visualize a single word (of that Scripture or song). It took me forever to list a variety of slide selections for each line or phrase of that Scripture or song, then pull them from the metal boxes in which I kept my slide library, and then place them on a slide editor screen to make final selections, before placing them in Kodak carousel trays. Sometimes there would be a number of slides to illustrate a single phrase; i.e, a sunrise progression, to the scriptural, “And God said: ‘Let there be light.’”
One Easter Vigil, I put the first Scripture reading to slides (Scripture is rich in visuals!). One of the easiest slide meditations I ever created was putting slides of various artistic renditions of Mary (photos I took of statues of Mary wherever I came across them, or slides from photos in books) to the music of Ave Maria (jazz version by Deodata on his Whirlwinds album).1 I incorporated these so that I could use them as a meditation on a Marian Holy Day at Mass. I was fortunate that the church to which I was assigned had a white sanctuary wall, so that I did not need a screen.
But never doing the same thing twice, at a later date I put together a version interspersing contemporary women / mother-with-child / mother-and-child slides with traditional Marian artwork slides to convey that in many senses Mary was a normal woman of her time and not really with folded hands and halo all the time.
I have illustrated many hymns that are rich in visuals with slides composing slide meditations to: “Be Not Afraid,” “Earthen Vessels,” etc. And I composed slide meditations based on the following themes:
- Pro-life slide meditation utilizing the Phil Keaggy song: “Who Will Speak Up for the Little Ones.”
- Eucharist slide meditation utilizing the hymn “One Bread; One Body.”
- Love and marriage slide meditations utilizing Dan Fogelberg’s song “Longer Than,” or Kenny Rogers’s “Through the Years.”
- Thanksgiving slide meditation utilizing the Dameans’ “Love That’s Freely Given.”
- Presence (of God) slide meditation utilizing the music / song “I See My Lord.”
- Glory and praise slide meditation utilizing Psalm 148.
- Holy Spirit slide meditation utilizing John Denver’s “Windsong.”
- Blessings slide meditation utilizing “All Good Gifts” from the Godspell album.
- Christmas slide meditation to the musical background of “Silent Night” by Manheim Steamroller.
Having taken pictures / slides of Stations of the Cross images in various churches over the years, I utilize those visual images in Stations of the Cross prayer services that I conduct in nursing homes to make the Stations more than words and to convey the reality of what the Lord went through for us to the residents of the nursing homes.
Speaking of Stations of the Cross, I once purchased a slide version of the movie “Jesus of Nazareth,” and put them (slides of the Holy Thursday and Good Friday events) to the music of “Jesus Christ Superstar” for a teenagers’ Station of the Cross service (together with congregational prayers and hymns).2
Sometimes I would just utilize one or two slides to underscore a Scripture, as slides from my trip to the Holy Land to illustrate the Gospel of the day.
I was born 50 years too soon because with the advent of computers and the Internet, it is so much easier to create and show slide-meditations. Just the other week (15th Sunday of Ordinary Time) when the Gospel was about the Good Samaritan, I was able to Google artistic images of the Good Samaritan, save them to my laptop, create a slide meditation via iPhoto software on my laptop, and utilize them at a nursing home Sunday prayer service that I based on that Gospel passage of the day via wiring my laptop to the nursing home’s big screen TV. No longer do I need to trudge in carrying a screen or Kodak carousel projector — just my laptop and some cables. Those visual images could be shown prior to the service or as background to the Gospel reading.
And having scanned my 35mm slide library into my computer, I can instantly pull up appropriate digitized slides in the creation of a slide meditation, via the search feature of the computer.
My library of digitized music is as easy to pull up using the same computer search feature. For example, for the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, I was able to choose between appropriate songs: “Lord, Come and Save Us,” “The Lord is Near,” “Our Help is from the Lord,” “The Lord Has Done Great Things,” “What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Look Towards Me,” and “In Every Need.” From those options I was able to choose “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as a hymn to be sung by the nursing home “congregation” and several others as meditation songs, i.e., Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” to underscore the congregational hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Presently as a hospice chaplain, I create slide meditations for prayer services that I conduct. But I can also easily make selections of religious music appropriate to underscore people’s faith at time of death and dying vigils for some of my hospice patients.
Often, unchurched families request that I conduct memorial services for their deceased loved ones (since they may feel uneasy in a church or approaching a pastor with a funeral request), and I utilize meditation music (with copyright permission via an annual copyright / OneLicense permit that I purchased).
You may ask: “What has been the impact on patients?” “Can the addition of art or music distract from matters of the heart and the real issues at hand?”
In this day and age when iTunes has so popularized the public consumption of music, and when Netflix and TV are so much a part of people’s lives, I would think that ministry could be enhanced via the incorporation of audiovisuals. But then, the church has known this for centuries as religious art, statues, stained glass windows, and music have been part of the experience of church and worship. So why shouldn’t music and visual art also enhance ministry?
In the history of liturgical music, hymns were an expression of faith and used to teach faith. Similarly, religious art was both an expression of faith as well as a means to promote the faith.
I find that visuals bring Scriptures to life and make a connection to the present. I find that music incorporated, as follow-up meditations to Scripture readings, underscores the scriptural or homiletic message.
People may not remember what I say as part of a homily, as much as they remember a visual image or slide meditation or meditation song. Even years later people still remember, better than I, some of the slide meditations that I have created.
Richard Roos is a hospice ministry chaplain with Heartland Hospice in Pittsburgh, PA.