Pray in colour.

Just before the first lockdown in March last year, I posted about my reflections on intercessory prayer. Just after that, and maybe even as a result of that post, I started to explore with Praying in Color. My Spiritual Director on the IGR I did at Penhurst had mentioned it, and I had tucked it away for future reference. I mentioned that when I painted a mandala with someone in mind, it was a way of praying for them and that quite often I gave them the finished mandala. It seemed a very natural attraction for me.

Here, I will summarise the process that Sybil MacBeth lays out in great detail in her book “Praying in Color”:

1. Draw a shape on the page:

– a triangle, trapezoid, squiggly line, or imperfect circle.  

2. Write a word in or near the shape:

– the person you are praying for, word or phrase from scripture, a name for God, a feeling word that came up in your prayer… 

3. Add detail to the drawing.

This might be dots, lines, circles, zigzags, or whatever your hand wants to do. 

4. Continue to enhance the drawing.

Think of each stroke and each moment as time that you spend with that person or word or phrase or God in prayer. 

5. Keep drawing until the image feels finished. 

6. Add colour to the picture.

Choose colours that will stay in your memory, that you particularly like, or that remind you of what you are praying about. 

I am not quite so dextrous with the digitial pen, but I am sure that you can see where it is going. When the drawing and praying for the first person, word, phrase, feeling or name for God are completed, You can move onto another space on the page:

7. Draw a new shape or design

-to create a place for the name of another person, word, phrase, feeling or name for God. 

8. Repeat the process of drawing as many times as you feel moved to. 

9. Linger with the page in front of you.

Let the names, images and colours imprint themselves on your brain. Spend another moment with each one on silence and close with an “Amen”. 

10. Carry the page with you.

Place it open on your prayer spot or on the fridge: someplace where your eyes will scan it during the day. 

Sometimes when I am busy or stressed, and my mind is all over the place, I have found this to be a helpful way of praying that slows me down.

In another of her books on this concept, Sybil Macbeth offers colouring templates that she has drawn – steps 1-5 effectively – and a wealth of other suggestions on how to use them. During the first lockdown in March last year, I used one of those to make intercessory prayers for the people I cared about and who were struggling. I took one person a day and spent the time in my morning prayer, thinking of them and the graces I wished to ask God to bestow on them. Then I kept the sheet around and placed it in my prayer space overnight. I also added prayers for my two children during Holy Week.

The images are stuck into an art book that I use as a spiritual workbook and I love the prayer patchwork they make. I have also considered the possibility of cutting the rectangles when I have finished the praying in colour with them and putting them in my prayer pot to hold, or take out at random another day.

During the retreat I made at home in the summer, I learned that to help me move from one state of being to another, I need to have some transtion type activities, and especially when going from a busy, active state to a contemplative state. Praying in colour helps me to do just that.

My friend the artist is taken with this idea and created some colouring templates of Julian of Norwich quotes for me to pray with during my retreat. Her intention is to leave room in the templates for enhancements as well as colouring. You can see I have added my own. At some point, she is talking about creating colouring books that can be bought and she is in the process of creating them. I am looking forward to that, but in the meantime, I still have some she gave me in the summer. Suffice to say that the last few months have been hectic and stressful for me, as the next few weeks also promise to be. I am feeling drawn to spend sometime praying in colour to slow me down enough to reconnect with my inner contemplative. Why not give it a try yourself?

Diary of a Sunflower: 28 May, Year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

I’m doing tai chi and getting really into it. I’m not being all that successful with meditating though. I tried to do the cross-legged Buddhist posture, but I keep getting pins and needles in my foot. I need to get the position right or give up trying that one. 

Praying with Images: Where are you staying?

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Sculpture from La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

John 1:35–42

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed[a]). 42 He brought Simon[b] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter[c]).

Praying With Images guided prayer.

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Made a searching and fearless…Step 4 and The Spiritual Exercises.

Made a searching and fearless…1: Reading of this post.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 4: Alcoholics Anonymous

There is something quite appropriate about looking at this step at the beginning of January! We might be in the first blush of enthusiasm for our New Year’s Resolutions – if we have indeed made any. Perhaps we have already forgotten it or given up.

This step is difficult and long, and not to be taken lightly. It is to be approached with seriousness, and also gentleness. Its equivalent in the Spiritual Exercises is the first week, where we look at our own sinfulness. Step 4 encourages us to look deeply at ourselves, warts and all, our strengths and our weaknesses, our virtues and vices. We are invited to bring everything out into the light to look at it.

In “Blueprint for Progress”, the workbook that goes along with step 4, personal qualities are put along side their opposites and we are invited to consider where we generally sit in the space between the two extremes. The process is then to consider examples of situations and our response to them that have led to us placing ourselves there. It is a process of discernment. When we are being too hard on ourselves, we might find that we can think of examples that support the contrary to what we propose. And when we are inclined to justify our behaviour or actions, the sting of conscience – the phrase St. Ignatius uses in the Exercises – pulls us up short and demands that we look more closely. As with the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, it is an uncomfortable journey. It demands humility, true humility. Not the self deprecating kind that refuses to recognise our own good as well as our own faults. And it is not a journey to make alone. Having moved through the second and third steps, where we came to believe and made a decision to turn our lives over to God, we make this journey together with our God.

Made a searching and fearless…2: Reading of this post.

In the Spiritual Exercises, where we have moved into the First week from the Principle and Foundation, we have come to know ourselves as created and deeply loved by God. It is our reaching out to God that enables us to make this inventory without growing to despise ourselves.

I was a young adult when I worked through this step formally. There were things I discovered about myself that I did not like, and I worked to mend them. There were identified characteristics of adult children of alcoholics that I recognised the potential for in myself and I resolved to avoid those pitfalls. One of those was that it was common for adults who had been raised in an alcoholic home to leave projects unfinished, to start something and then to walk away without seeing it all the way to the end. I saw that that could easily be me and it has stayed with me all these years. I may struggle to be consistent, and it may look like something has quietly gone by the wayside – my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich for example. I did not finish that in one year, even though at the beginning of Advent last year it seemed that there was more than enough time! I have not given up. I have resumed the journey where I left off in October, and I will finish it.

I do not drink alcohol myself. There is also a tendency for this addiction to run in families and I knew at the age of seventeen that I did not want to walk that path. I joined the Pioneer Association when I was eighteen and made that abstinence into a lifelong prayer.

I am struck by an idea I heard , I think when I heard Laurence Freeman speak in Norwich some years ago. It describes the perception of the Seven Deadly Sins as being compulsions, addictions that drive our behaviour and as such, make us not free. Addiction, by its very nature is an inordinate desire because the addict places their addiction above everything else. I would suggest that we all have them, and that they can be small as well as big. I know for example, that I am not able to “just have one” chocolate digestive, even if I resolve to, and I am in public. I can tie myself up in all sorts of knots with that one. If the packet is open I am not at peace. They call to me and torment me. Best not to buy them at all and refuse the first one. It may seem like a trivial example, but the behaviour and desire is there, nevertheless. The journey of the fourth step, and the First week of the spiritual exercises is to become aware of our own specific compulsions, even the subtle ones, and to remove us from denial so that we can live freely of them.

Made a searching and fearless…3: Reading of this post.

At the end of every year for quite a few years running, it was my habit to do a review of the year, a sort of examen. I would read through my diary and try to sum of the mood of each month and then create some sort on collage showing my movement through the year. I notice two changes to this habit in recent years that have made this review essentially obsolete. The first is that as I have engaged more deeply in Ignatian Spirituality, I have regularly practised the daily examen, and the second is that my “diary” is now exclusively my prayer journal. All my reflections are derived from my prayer, including my daily examen.

So, here is where I am today. In my examen of the year, I recognise the hand of God in the big changes taking place in my life, and my commitment and hard work, my complete cooperation, in the new direction He is leading me. I also recognise my compulsion to workaholism, motivated by pride, and that it has led me to burnt out exhaustion and away from the space and time for a slower pace and deepened engagement in prayer. This latter desire of mine and His is the raisin d’etre for changing direction in my career.

Made a searching and fearless…4: Reading of this post.

In the 10th Addition of the Exercises on Penance – believe me, I have a lot to say about that particular addition – Ignatius describes how we can do too much penance as well as too little penance. It is all about the point of equilibrium. The work of the Fourth step, the moral inventory strikes me as being the same thing. Ignatius encourages us to act against the desolation. So, in that spirit, while I am still working in school and trying to set up my business as an online Chemistry tutor, I will be cutting back a little in a few places. One of those is here. Between now and February, I will post a reflection fortnightly rather than weekly, alternating it with a Chemistry blog on my other website. I hope to pick it up weekly again when I am no longer spending my working days in the classroom. The other posts I do will continue in the normal pattern.

I would like to wish you all a safe and good new year, and for you to deepen your own prayer life and journey into the heart of God.

Diary of a Sunflower: 20 May, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

The hot and cold turmoil of Sunflower’s relationship with Sedation continues in the same vein, with her oscillating in her reflections about the relationship. Here, she has spent the evening with a friend, Hunger, who has an eating disorder. The evening has not gone very well. 

Addicts! Who needs them? Not me anyway. Right now, I’ve had enough of it. Who’s supporting me? My diary. I feel the need to withdraw from them all. Reassert my independence emotionally. Bloody addicts. They’re quick to draw on your resources but they can’t do it when you want/need something. It always has to be on their terms. 

Imaginative Contemplation: The Epiphany

Lectionary

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Matthew 2:1-12

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Imaginative Contemplation guided prayer: The Epiphany.

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Exploring Personal Prayer: The Examen

Due to illness, the sessions of Exploring Personal Prayer were delayed after the Lectio Divina. We will be doing the session on the Examen tomorrow at 6.30pm GMT and you are welcome to come along, even if you have not attended any of the other sessions. The period we will be looking at is our Advent this year, and Christmas so far. I hope you will be able to join us.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 36

After a long pause, I am resuming my Journey with Julian of Norwich this week. It may be taking me longer than I envisaged when I set out, but I am not giving up. I will persist to the end.

After all these reveleations, the visions faded and Julian was returned to pain and dryness. When a priest visited, she told him she had been raving, seeming to discredit her own visions. She immediately regretted this and felt that she had betrayed Jesus’ exquisite mercy revealed to her. When she fell asleep she was visited by the devil in a terrible apparition; resisisting the devil, she was returned to the consolation of her earlier visions.

Our Lord very humbly revealed words to me, without voice and without opening of lips, just as He had done before, and said very sweetly: Know it well, it was no hallucination which you saw today, but accept and believe it and hold firmly to it, and comfort yourself with it and trust in it, and you will not be overcome…And these words: You will not be overcome, were said very insistently and strongly, for certainty and strength against every tribulation which may come. He did not say, you will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted; but He said: You will not be overcome.

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Psalm 143:3,9

In The Bleak Midwinter.

In the Bleak Midwinter: Recording of ths post.

December has been a very tough month this year. You might have fathomed that from my lack of posts. I have been trying just to make it to the end of term. Did I make it? No, not really. I was ill and had another negative COVID test, and then back to work for the last week and a bit, only to scald my face quite badly on the Wednesday and have to stay home on the last day of term, after a visit to Accident and Emergency. Not that it made any difference, since I received a phone call from the Assistant Head telling me not to come into school on the Friday because one of the students I taught had tested positive, our first confirmed case in school. They needed to double check protocols with Public Health England. It seems to change regularly. Since then, another two students and some teachers have tested positive too. It is easy to complain and make a list of all the negatives, but suffice to say, December has been tough, for lots of reasons.

I have been watching Peaky Blinders on DVD box set throughout this month…maybe I should nickname it “Bleaky Blinders”. It is dark. Since watching TV is one of my amber, desires – it tips over into inordinate desire and obsessiveness all too easily, my Spiritual director encourages me to notice what I am drawn to watch and why. What is it that draws me? Where is it coming from? and where is it leading to? All good discernment questions. If you know the series, you might recognise in the title for this post, the words the brothers are committed to saying at the point of death.

So, here is what I notice. I watch a lot of Films/Box sets when I am ill, stressed or exhausted. I have been all of these, all throughout this long, long month. When my head is caving in and my body is just fighting to do what I need to do, and crash when there is no necessity or even option. My head becomes a swirly place to be, and the escapism offers some relief from the constant noise. You may know what I mean.

I am drawn to complicated characters that demonstrate moral ambiguity. Tommy Shelby might indeed be a violent gangster, but he also has admirable qualities and vulnerabilities: he shows tenderness and is clearly tortured by his experiences of the First World war. What would he have been without that desolating experience? The most recent episodes I watched described a charming young man with a desire to change the world for the better. A different man came back from the war, and is still fighting it. He knows no peace and falls apart when his circumstances and environment are peaceful. I am not recommending Peaky Blinders here, I am noticing my response.

I also notice the feeling of restlessness and the impulse to turn it off. Is that the nature of the drama itself or the process of watching too much TV? Or both?

When I did turn it off a couple of evenings before Christmas, I put up my Christmas tree and played carols, I had to stop for about five minutes and cry. So many of the baubles bring with them their own memories of different Christmasses past. When I became a single parent, I bought a set of very cheap baubles for that first Christmas alone with my children, and we bought only two elaborate baubles that they each got to choose one. We did that every year, gradually replacing the cheaper ones, so that now it is an eclectic mix. They are not inclined ot put up the tree anymore, and because of Coronavirus, my friend did not come to stay this year: I decorated the tree on my own. It was a poignant experience, and moving.

Christmas has been quieter this year, not the huge pomp and ceremony as usual. It has been trimmed back. And yet, in the middle of this winter, where perhaps we still have as much to go through as we have aready been through, there is the cosiness of finding a safe place and hunkering down, in spite of the odds. It may be survival mode and if there is survival, there is life and recovery is possible. In the centre of this hard place, there is a light and hope: it is this truth that hit me while I was decorating my Christmas tree. As always, when we remember to look for the presence of God, He is to be found, no matter how long or bleak the winter.

Diary of a Sunflower: 8 May, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

God, is this relationship worth it?