A Joyous Easter to All
When my mother died a few decades ago, a friend said to me, “Not only did you lose your mother, but you have lost your mother’s memories and perceptions of you, things that only she knew and experienced.” When my brother Don died in December, I wanted to grab onto my memories and perceptions of him. I’m not talking about the specific things we did or places we went together in childhood or the activities our family of origin and our extended families shared, but my memories of who he was. What was his “Don”ness? When he was alive, his body, his voice, his whole physical presence were living and breathing testimonies of Don. When he died, the visual reminders and prompts of who he was were no longer there.
A couple of days after he died, I sat down with one of the Gratitude Gobbler templates I had made for Thanksgiving. I wrote Don’s name in the center and started to brainstorm words and phrases to describe him. Some were physical descriptions, but most were about his personality and his character—good and bad, silly and serious, nouns and adjectives,…. These were my memories and impressions of him, no one else’s. My mental energy for writing prose about Don was zero, but this brainstorming exercise did not require sentences or correct punctuation. It did not require digging into family history or going through photo albums. I was gathering the little confetti pieces of Don from my heart’s and mind’s memory and flinging them onto the page. I took breathers and aded color to the spaces. It was playful, emotional, tender, and honest. It felt prayerful, loving, and cathartic. I had not planned to do this ahead of time, but I showed this memory meditation to my brother’s family and they loved it.
Putting the words on the page has cleared my mind for other memories to surface. I could probably fill a whole other gobbler. When I reread the words, I think, this was “Don,” not all of him, but some of the fullness I know of him. Creating this mini portrait/doodlelog feels like a tangible way to mourn, give thanks, and celebrate the unique creation of God he was.
In a guest post on April 21, 2020, guest blogger Mary Ann Stafford shared a similar but complementary drawing and exercise. She calls hers a “memory map.”
If you are hurting from the death of a friend or loved one, make your own drawing. You can use any coloring page or one of the ones on the Handouts Page. Or you can start from scratch. During Lent, I’ll post another example with my Mother as the focal point. I will take a step-by-step praying in color approach to show you how to grow a memory meditation without using an already-drawn template.
The Feast of the Epiphany was January 6, but the Season of Epiphany continues. The “shining forth” of the Light of Christ deserves more than one day. It is an infinitely expanding event. Right now, I need as much of that Light as I can collect. So I pray, “Let me be a solar panel to absorb Christ’s rays and transform me!”
I love stars as templates for prayers during this season. In the prayer drawing below, I used cookie cutters for several stars and drew a couple freehand. It’s pretty easy to tell which is which. This is a prayer for friends who also need God’s light for healing and comfort. Just in case you are wondering why there are red and blue stars…, there really ARE red and blue stars in the universe. The colors are indicators of their heat. From coolest to hottest: red are the coolest, then yellow, then white, and finally blue are the hottest!
After 18 years, praying in color still helps me to focus in prayer. My body gets to be part of the prayer and is content. My hands have something to do, my eyes have something to see…, so I can settle into a place of inner quiet. Words may come to me and I pray them. Sometimes I incorporate words into the drawing as I did in this one. If no verbal prayers come, I just focus on the name and imagine the person in God’s care and filled with God’s love and light.
Here are some Epiphany/Star prayers from previous years.
My brother died a week ago. Don was my big brother by six years. His death was a surprise but not a shock. He had escaped death on multiple occasions with heart issues. Every time a family member’s name showed up on my phone, I held my breath. And then a sigh of relief followed when the conversation was about other things. But this time the phone call brought the unwanted news. Don was in a wheelchair at the hospital waiting to be picked up to go home after a one-day stay. The nurses found him unresponsive. The next couple of hours held little chance of recovery. The gift of those hours was the gathering of eight family members in the hospital room and a relative who was a priest. It is rare that families get to assemble in the hospital during CoVid, but they did. With prayers and anointing, they released Don into God’s hands and comforted each other. With a phone placed next to my mouth and Don’s ear, I spoke love and goodbyes to him. I am both sorrowful and grateful. We were siblings but we also had a hard-won, easy friendship. We have no unfinished business.
Two friends and I started writing daily haiku a few weeks ago. Haiku are the tiny, 17-syllable poems, like the one at the top of the blog. They are a wonderful way to corral thoughts, memories, and emotions and to investigate the world. I have written six or seven about my brother—some serious, some silly. Haiku-writing, daily reading of Advent meditations, and the Advent calendar drawing keep me grounded in the paradoxes of the season. Grief and hope really do dance arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand. Scripture readings about sorrow, longing, and despair are juxtaposed with ones about hope, expectation, and promise. Psalm 30: 10-11 (NIV) is just one example: 10 Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help. 11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
I have two Advent calendars this year, one with the names of people, the other with words from #AdventWord. When I enter my calendar worlds, I burrow into prayer and stillness. The people-calendar reminds me of my place in a large and loving, if scattered, community. I am one of many pieces in this colorful patchwork of friends, family, and even strangers. The words on the #AdventWord calendar remind me of who I want to be and the vision I have of a God-infused world. I love the ebb and flow between words and silence I experience when I doodle/pray on the calendars.
The time between the first phone call and the call confirming Don’s death is vivid in my mind. I walked outside and sat on the hood of the car in our jungle-y property. It was winter-dark and quiet. I wanted to walk, so I edged through the vines and ferns to the road. The neighborhood has no street lights. As I turned the dark corner not more than fifty feet from where I had been sitting, I was met with an exaltation of light and color. Almost every house on the street had Christmas lights—two blocks of them. I tend to be pretty cranky about Christmas lights before December 20, but not that night. The shimmer and glitz and glare were like a proclamation, an announcement—“Glory to God in the highest and Peace to God’s people on earth.” I was not alone on the flip-flop journey of gratitude and grief. Millions of other people were on it, too. This was unexpected, this gift of light on the night I became the last person alive in my family-of-origin. I was alone, but not alone, and smiling.
Here are five turkey templates (some old, one new) for a pre- or post-dinner Thanksgiving activity for adults and kids. In the center of the turkey write your name for God: “Gracious God, Creator, Beloved One, or….” In the spaces within the turkey, in the shapes on the side, or anywhere on the page, write or draw your “gratitude list.” Add color and more lines, dots, or squiggles. The list does not have to include large, sweeping things like “family, country, home, teachers, planet, Jesus…”–though it can. Don’t just write the things others want you to say or those things you think you should be grateful for. Go for the little, ordinary things, the ones that give you delight, ease, or a moment of curiosity–“gravy, mac and cheese, a tiny acorn on the ground, colored pencils, a Zoom meeting with friends, a lizard, the rain.…” Part of the purpose of a gratitude list is to learn to “think in gratitude” in the same way we learn to “think in French or Spanish” when we study a foreign language. Noticing simple, specific things helps me to cultivate chronic thankfulness rather than just gratitude for the general or the extraordinary. I want to learn to be “abounding in thanksgiving” or “overflowing with thankfulness” as the writer of Colossians 2:7 proclaims.
Choose the turkey you want to use. Click on the link below the drawing. Download it first. Then print. Feel free to make multiple copies.
Another option for a Gobbler template is to trace around your hand. Draw lines or arcs to delineate spaces for words.
Below are examples of completed turkeys from previous years. A Blessed Thanksgiving to all.
The beaches of Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle, offer beautiful and intriguing gifts when the tide comes in and makes its twice daily delivery. Piles of strange seaweed and sea monsters of giant kelp look like something from a sci-fi series. Dungeness crab shells and half-eaten small sharks float up. Huge pieces of wood and trunks of trees lodge into the sand. And stones, thousands of them, form a blanket of shimmering, giant gems across the beach.
Generous friends have lent us their home for over a month on Whidbey Island, right at the door to the Pacific Ocean. The sound of the surf through our open bedroom windows, awe-dropping sunsets of vivid reds, oranges, purples, and blacks, and crystal-clear views of stars, planets, and the Milky Way keep me wide-eyed and thankful. But at the top of my August and September gratitude list are the unpretentious beach stones. When they are still wet, vivid shades of green, charcoal, red, orange, white, and tan shine on the beach. I wish I had better words to describe their colors: apricot, sandalwood, sage green, mauve, frost, and puce are as good as I can find. Maybe the stones deserve their own color-spectrum vocabulary like lavanite or igneous black or volcanico purple. I ooh and aah at their textures and shapes. And the rustling, crackling, clattering sound of the tide cascading over the piles of stones is hypnotic and musical. I can’t ever remember being so captivated by something as ordinary and simple as a stone.
When we arrived at our friends’ house, they had left a bag of twenty acrylic markers and a pile of stones in a basket in the living room. Earlier quests decorated the stones with their names and the dates of their visit and left them in a basket. Acrylic markers were new to me; but since the day we arrived, I have spent hours on the beach doodling with them on stones. And some of the doodles morphed into prayers. And the stone prayers looked terrific on a big driftwood log. And the log became a prayer altar. I love that the names of the people I am praying are exposed to the salt and the sun and the stars and the sky and the whole magnificent expanse and constellation of God’s universe. Every day when I arrive on the beach and see the prayer stones, I pray again for the people on this visual prayer list.
Paraclete Press is sponsoring a series of one-day summer retreats online. I am excited that Praying in Color will be one of them. If you have not been to one of my workshops or retreats, I hope you will consider attending. Please invite your friends and Share this post with others.
Below is the description. The cost of the retreat is $65. To REGISTER Click Here.
Prayer is the opposite of multi-tasking. It is the gathering of the mind, body, emotions, thoughts, and spirit into the same geography and inviting God to be present there. In this retreat we will gather (safely) as a community to explore praying in color—the visual, active, and meditative prayer practice introduced in the 2007 book Praying in Color: Drawing A New Path to God and its 2020 expanded/updated version. If you are word-weary, restless, antsy, or anxious in prayer or just looking for a new way to connect to God, come explore the versatile practice called praying in color. Bring paper, a black pen, and colored markers or pencils. Doodlers welcome; absolutely no artistic skill necessary! Check out Sybil’s website and blog: prayingincolor.com.
Sybil MacBeth is the author of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God and other books in the series. She combines her years of experience in the mathematics classroom with her lifelong efforts in prayer to lead workshops and retreats across the country. As an inveterate multi-tasker, she loves to sing, dance, doodle, read, cook, spend time with her sons and grandchildren, and lead workshops. She lives with her husband Andy in Florida while they await the “all clear” for spending a year in Jerusalem.
This retreat is non-refundable unless cancelled by the host.
If you are unable to attend the live retreat at the hours given, we welcome you to register anyways, and if you contact us, we will send you, at no extra charge, the retreat link that you can watch over the following three days.
View the other Paraclete Retreat Offerings for the summer.
Below is a template for creating a blessing prayer. See my post about blessing prayers from June 5. The “arms” on the template can hold the words of the blessing. If you run out of arms, you can use some of the other spaces for more words. Color and say the prayers to yourself or out loud. Or just sit in the quiet with the blessings as a backdrop for a silent time with God. Add more doodles, lines, arcs, marks…to the existing ones. Next to the blank template is an example of a partially filled-in blessing prayer.
Download the blank template by clicking on the word .jpg or .pdf. below the picture.
Blessing Template .jpg
Blessing Template .pdf
Please let me know if the blank template is too gray. I have been trying to fix that! Thanks.
Blessing Prayers are one of my favorite ways to pray. In a blessing prayer we address directly the person we are praying for. A very old example of a blessing prayer is in the Book of Numbers 6:24-26:
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Blessing prayers have a different feel to me than intercessory prayers, those prayers in which we ask God to do something for others. We make intercession for others for a multitude of reasons: for physical healing from illness, safe travel, healthy pregnancies, a new job, or happy and stable marriages. Intercessory prayers ask God to intervene and help. “Please, God, free Maria from her addiction.” “Almighty One, protect our children at college.” Compassionate Healer, release John from the grips of this virus.” “Loving Jesus, fill my child with joy.”
I like the blessing prayer form because it is less specific and more expansive than intercession. Finding the “right” words for my extemporaneous intercessions is difficult for me. Using a blessing prayer format gives me a framework for corralling my words. It stimulates my poetic imagination about my hopes for my friends and the world. Here are a few of ways I pray blessing prayers:
May the God of Love surround you.
May the God of Joy delight you.
May the God of Mystery surprise you.
May the God of Hope sustain you.
May the God of Wisdom direct you
May the God of Freedom release you…
God to enfold you.
God to enliven you.
God to comfort you.
God to accompany you.
God to refresh you.
God to unbind you….
OR sometimes maybe we need to call forth blessings on ourselves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are.
Creator of All, unite us.
Stream of Justice, trouble us.
Path of Righteousness, turn us.
Singer of Love, teach us.
Binder of Wounds, heal us.
Freer of Captives, release us.
Light of Light, awaken us.
Bread of Life, feed us….
Maybe the difference between blessing and intercession is just semantics, but blessing prayers seem like prayers of affirmation rather than just prayers of asking. They focus on the person but also on the infinite nature of God. When I offer a blessing prayer, I imagine I am unfurling an enormous canopy of God’s goodness and power onto someone. I feel like I am anointing a person with holy words and acting as an agent of God’s love. I want the people I pray for to look up and feel covered with the vast, bright gossamer of God.
I love combining blessing prayers with praying in color, ie. doodling prayer. I often use them for cards of condolence, birthday and anniversary wishes, and healing.
A simple way to draw a blessing prayer is to use the “two-stroke” prayer format. You can see the complete instructions in my September 12, 2016 post called Two-Stroke Doodled Prayers. Here’s a quick synopsis.
Many traditional Irish prayers follow a blessing format. John Michael Talbot’s God of Life 1980’s album has several songs that fit this pattern. His songs God and Betwixt Me are two especially beautiful examples of blessing prayers. I have kept these songs in my repertoire of memorized prayers and sing them whenever I feel the need for blessing.
Intercession: Just about the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning is the wonderful little nightlight my friend Suzanne made for me. (See below). When we moved to Florida I brought it with me and plugged it into a socket into my mother-in-law’s 1970’s bathroom. When I see it in the morning I always say, “Good Morning, Suzanne, Good Morning, Matisse, Good Morning, God.” (The abstract design reminds me of my favorite artist Henri Matisse’s flower paintings.) Saying those “Good Mornings” has become a ritual. Looking at the light a couple of days ago, I thought the design would make a great template for intercessory prayer. The lilac rectangle/vase represents God, the source from which all life emanates; the colored tissue-paper-looking blossoms are the people for whom I am praying. Below is my nightlight/Matisse inspired intercessory prayer.
By the way, my friend Suzanne has written a wonderful book called Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New. Beads are a visual and tactile way to pray. You can see my review of her book on amazon or the post I wrote about the book on July 11, 2018. My husband and I both have prayer beads she made. We plan to carry them with us when we finally go to Jerusalem.
Confession: A few days ago my husband and I took two paper grocery bags and walked to the next street over. The street backs up to a large Presbyterian church complex and marks the far edge of the church’s property. It is lined with a four-foot tangle of pin oaks, palmetto scrub, and vines. The untended thicket is a perfect place for people to throw empty beer cans and water bottles from their cars. In fifteen minutes, we had filled both bags–Busch, Coors, Bud Light, Icehouse, and Mike’s Harder Cranberry cans. I have to admit to a certain sense of pride and even self-righteousness about being a good neighbor and citizen. Then I thought, “I won’t tell anyone what we did and that will make it a really selfless act.” Then the voice on the other shoulder jabbed me and said, “Self-righteousness is self-righteousness, sister, whether you say it out loud or keep it in the pride box of your mind.” So I’m saying it out loud because it did feel good to clean up the neighborhood. And it felt right. And in cleaning up and saying it out loud I actually feel less disdain for the people who trashed up the road to begin with. Now when I walk by, I’ll get to enjoy the the green stuff on both sides of the road–the Spanish moss, the elegant oaks, the palmettos, Confederate Jasmine, Angel Trumpet….
Confession: I hope a few people have watched the YouTube video of Jana Riess interviewing me about Praying in Color. The interview covers most of the important things I think about praying in color, explains why it “works” for me, and gives examples of several different ways of praying. It is free to watch through Wednesday. After that, there is a small charge, I think . Click on the poster to watch it.