Today, I’d like to introduce a simple visual exercise to help us meditate on a passage from Scripture. The image we’ll be using is a world map made around 1300––the Hereford Mappa Mundi. This and similar medieval maps formed the focus of my first book, and I still turn to them because they teach me so much about the Christian faith. Sometimes, they even provide a way into Scripture.
One of my favorite Scripture passages comes from the book of Hebrews. Encouraging God’s people to hold fast to their faith, the author of Hebrews writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . . (Heb 12:1–2 NIV)
In this passage, the author of Hebrews gives a direct command to followers of Christ: fix your eyes on Jesus. When you’re hindered, fixate on him. When you become entangled in sin, fixate on him. When you grow weary of running the race, fixate on him. When you can’t fix your world, fix your eyes on on the one who can.
This seems like such a simple directive. Yet how difficult it can be! When I try to fixate on Jesus, I quickly become aware of just how hindered and distracted I am. So many things compete for my time, my attention, my love.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi, made to hang in a chapel in Hereford Cathedral in England, is like a picture of my world—distracting, busy, and crammed full of things. In fact, the map contains some two thousand pictures and inscriptions. Many are completely fascinating. As in my own life, it’s easy to get lost in this world.
One place, however, helps us get our bearings when we feel lost and distracted. At the center of this bustling world lies the city of Jerusalem, with a ghostly image of Christ on the cross rising from the city. Notice how the circular city of Jerusalem echoes the larger circle of the earth.
Now for our exercise. First, find a reproduction of the Hereford Mappa Mundi (you can use the image above or do a Google search to find many images of the map). Spend some time with the map. Let your eye wander over the world, from the Garden of Eden at the top to the Pillars of Hercules at the bottom. This is fun to do, because there is lots to see and discover!
Second, after you’ve explored the map a bit, let your gaze come to rest at the center. I’ve learned that when I peruse the Hereford Mappa Mundi, my gaze is always drawn to the center. In fact, I can’t look at the map for long without my eye coming to rest on the cross of Christ. I’m willing to bet that this is also the case with you. The mapmakers designed it this way because they understood the power of the center.
Third, read the passage from Hebrews I quoted above: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1–2 NIV).”
Finally, look again at the map. Find the center of the world––the city of Jerusalem––and fix your eyes there. Notice how, on the map, Jesus is at the center of all things. He is the author of all things, and he holds the entire world together.
After completing this exercise, take a moment to realize that you’ve just put the admonition of Hebrews into practice. You have fixed your eyes on Jesus! You have focused on him and gazed at his beauty. You have, even if only for a moment, cut out the distractions of the world.
I encourage you to try this exercise when you’re feeling busy, distracted, or overwhelmed, or perhaps when you’re having trouble finding a way into Scripture. It’s a simple yet profound exercise that leads us to practice the words of Hebrews. I hope you find it as meaningful as I do. Visual contemplation using this map helps me get to the kernel of what it means to fix my eyes on Jesus. Through it, I gaze on his beauty and remember that he’s always at the center of my world.
To find out more about medieval world maps and how they can help our walk of faith today, check out my book, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps.