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?

Prayer Pot.

Close up of part of a stained glass window at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church, Poringland.
Prayer Pot 1: Reading of this post.

There are a lot of people I am holding in my prayers at the moment. Friends and family who are ill and/or struggling, people who have come to my workshops and retreat, people who are anxious for someone they love, people who work in spirituality, or other significant jobs where the vulnerable have to rely on them, every homeless person I pass on the street, the people who come to see me for spiritual direction…the list goes on, and it only gets longer. I watched Fr. James Martin’s live broadcast during the week “What Happens When We Pray” and I was at Quidenham Monastery last week and the Carmelite nuns there said a prayer for me and my work, and I smiled when I heard it. So what happens when we say we will pray for people? How do we deal with a long list of people we want to pray for? How do we do that without it being like reading a long shopping list out to God? Or, as children would pray before bedtime:

God bless mummy, God bless daddy, and God bless granny…

Not that I am criticising children’s prayer, far from it: there is beauty and innocence in it, I used to pray in this way as a child. But I am not a child anymore, and as I am now, it seems insufficient, that there is more complexity to what I feel and want to say to God, and what graces I would ask for on the behalf of others. Of course we call these types of prayer intercessory prayers, and as I am thinking about it this week I am wondering what is it all about and how do we go about it, and really, what does it mean to ask for graces on behalf of other people? Are we to suggest what is best for them, or needed at that point? Is that really our place?

I went to a Christian meditation workshop given by Laurence Freeman some years ago at St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich. It was organised by the Norwich Christian Meditation Society. One thing that he said in his talk which struck me as being deeply true is that:

When we pray, we participate in God’s infinite expansion.

Laurence Freeman

and my experience over time has only deepened my sense of the truth of this statement. Have you ever thought of someone spontaneously, and murmured a prayer for them, only to find out later that at that moment, they were undergoing some sort of trial? This has happened to me on more than one occasion, and I have read and heard of others who have had similar experiences. The more deeply I am in with God, the more frequently it seems to happen, when I am on retreat for example. There was one year on retreat when I started thinking about a friend of mine I had not seen for a while since he had gone to seminary to become a priest, and I said some prayers for him, asking God to hold him and to be with him. When I came out of retreat and turned my phone back on, there was a message from another mutual friend telling me that my first friend was terminally ill.

I think of intercessory prayer as participation. When I hold someone in my prayer, in front of and with God, it is a way of joining in with God in loving that person. Sometimes, I might colour or paint a mandala as a prayer for someone, during which time, I will be thinking of them and the things they say or do or are going through, thanking God for them, and if there are problems and trials in their life, I may contemplate what grace is needed to sustain them through it and ask for that for them; and for healing if it is appropriate. The nudge to pray as I see it, comes from God, a way of inviting me to participate by noticing or sensing His involvement with, or the need of, another who is in my life.

Sometimes, I may choose someone from my list, because they have come into my mind and I focus on them. A friend of mine gave me a copy of some prayers from a book she has: “Prayers That Avail Much” which I might use at times like this. These prayers feel very powerful. They use the words of scripture to make their request, reminding us and God of His promises, and they leave space to put in the name of the person you are praying for:

Father, You have not given Sunflower a spirit of timidity – of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear – but You have given her a spirit of power and of love….

Prayers That Avail Much, Volume Two; Prayer for deliverance from mental disorder

It is a technique that we can employ in our own prayer with scripture:

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Sunflower,
    he who formed you, O Sunflower:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine

Isaiah 43:1

If you have never tried this way of praying for others or yourself, I recommend that you try it. It brings God up close and personal and you are left in no doubt that He is talking to you through scripture. I also like to use St. Patrick’s Breastplate as a prayer for protection for myself or others, either in full or in part:

I bind unto Sunflower the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

and I imagine being wrapped up in the Holy Trinity as I do. Painting mandalas and these longer intercessory prayers are excellent when you are holding one or two people in prayer, but what about that long list that I started with? I went to some training with some other spiritual directors a few months ago, and it was the subject of discussion. Someone there talked about having a Prayer Pot. To me, it is an ingenious idea that I have adopted in my own practice. Here is mine:

My Prayer Pot
Prayer Pot 2: Reading of this post.

I have in there, pieces of paper where I have written the names of all those I have said I will hold in my prayers. I have also put in a sachet of Lavender seeds, with some drops of Jasmine essential oil, and some drops of Ylang Ylang essential oil: for me, this formulation represents the “Fragrance of God”, but more on that another time. Sometimes, I might choose a name and focus just on that one person and other times, I put the pot in my prayer space and ask God to be with them all, and give all the graces they need for that day. There are not necessarily the words, more the sense of each person I am holding. And I know that He knows.

We can get trapped rattling through a list of people we must pray for, because we have said that we would and so we carry on obsessively, almost superstitiously, lest we show ourselves to ourselves and others, including God, as insincere and empty. To make a physical offering of them in prayer by way of a collection in a pot, or on a prayer tree, or some other means, allows us to be authentic in our desire to remember those we have said we would pray for, while remaining open to participate in God’s infinite expansion in our own lives, as well as the lives of others.