Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
When I first opened Phyllis Tickle: A Life and landed on the Chronology page at the beginning of the book, I started to cry. Here was a quick summary of Phyllis Tickle’s bio in three pages. It was a life I had been privileged to be part of for a dozen years.
From Jon Sweeney’s new, official biography of Phyllis, I learned so much more about the complex woman I loved, admired, and respected. Jon tackles the difficult task of organizing and analyzing the life of a woman who cannot be boxed in. There are so many overlapping and contrasting circles that describe her but do not contain her: Christian, spouse, mother, teacher, lecturer, analyzer, visionary, thinker, evangelist, sociologist, writer, poet, mentor, monk, extrovert, friend…. But Jon’s book does not just send out accolades on every page. It is an honest look at an amazing woman who struggled to juggle and balance those demanding and often conflicting and controversial roles. Phyllis Tickle: A Life expands my admiration for the breadth of her professional accomplishment and for the depth and discipline of her personal faith in God.
P.S. Without Phyllis Tickle, Praying in Color might still be just a secret prayer practice in my personal journal. When I met her in 2004 and showed her the way I prayed with doodles and color, Phyllis said “You’re going to write a book!” Being in the South, I said, “Yes, m’am” and went to work. She was my encourager, my mentor, and my writing midwife/doula. Through emails and conversations, Phyllis helped me to birth a book–as she did for dozens, maybe hundreds of other writers. Phyllis Tickle: A Life is not a series of testimonials by grateful friends and authors, like me. That may yet be another book.
Using a calendar template is one of my favorite ways to keep a daily discipline during Lent. The discipline can take three minutes or thirty. What matters is the daily regimen of participation and presence.
Each day I choose a word to ponder or a person to pray for. I write the word or name in the allotted space and draw or doodle around it. If words come to me as I draw I pray them. If not, I stay quiet. Returning to the calendar each day helps me to create a hallowed place where I can be present to God and listen. Each mark or stroke of color is a small movement prayer. It is a one day at a time, visual and kinesthetic way to have a Lenten practice.
The accumulation of words or peoples’ names is a visual tapestry of my mini spiritual journey through the forty-plus days of Lent.
Below are four templates to choose from in jpg or pdf form. Each calendar has 46 spaces which include Sundays. (Officially Sundays are not a part of the 40 days of Lent. So feel free to do something special for the Sundays, if you like–or leave the spaces empty.) On the Cross Calendar, the spaces on the cross itself are part of the 46 count. The traditional Box calendar is dated; the Tears template suggests a path to follow. The other two allow you to move around and choose the space you want to use on a given day. Date them as you go. Since the spaces are small I take the template to a copier and enlarge it (129%-132%) onto an 11″x17″ piece of card stock. Staying inside the lines is not a requirement! Add words or draw around the designated spaces.
Children can mark the daily walk through Lent with the calendars, also.
This is an example of a calendar from 2017. It includes the original blank template on the left (also available this year), the first few days of one calendar, and another finished version. Words on the third version came from daily meditations by Walter Brueggemann in his book: A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent.Here are some ways to use the calendars:
1) Pray for a person each day of Lent.
2) Use a daily book of Lenten meditations. Read the mediation for the day and select a word that jumps out at you. Meditate on the word as you draw and color around it. Let it enter your heart and mind. Ask God what you need to hear from the word.
3) Follow a daily lectionary and choose a word from one of the Scripture readings.
4) Read the same Psalm each day and choose a daily word. Psalm 51, for example, is a penitential Psalm with lots of juicy (sometimes depressing) words in it.
5) Read a different Psalm each day and choose a word.
6) Use nouns or adjectives that describe the nature and character of Jesus: savior, redeemer, healer, radical, obedient, forgiving,…
7) Since Lent is a time for reflection and self-examination, scatter your confessions, character defects, regrets, worries, dreams, sorrows, and hopes around the Cross template one day at a time.
8) The Tears template provides space above the line at the top to mark the arrival of Easter. Write the word Easter and/or use words or a drawing/doodle in the space to reflect the mood of the passage from Revelation 21:4 (NRSV) “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more.”
Click on .jpg or .pdf below the desired template. Make sure to download the template with the downward facing arrow in the top right before you print. These are also available on the Handouts Page on this website.
Besides the cake, the best part of the birthday parties I attended as a child was the “tray game.” Before the party the mother or father of the birthday girl placed numerous objects on a big tray and covered it with a tea towel or large cloth napkin. During the game part of the party an adult brought the tray out and placed it on the floor in the center of a circle of chiffon-clad, giggling partygoers. With the flourish of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the covering was removed and we had 90 seconds to memorize the contents of the tray. Giggles turned to silence and smiles to serious lip-biting and furrowed brows as we catalogued the tray’s twenty or so items in our minds: red pencil, penny, sugar cube, barrette, paper clip, comb, toothpick, bubblegum, spool of green thread,….This memorization was serious work and for the person who could recall the most objects, there was a prize at stake.
We must had been at least six or seven when we played the game because I remember writing a list of the tray’s contents when it exited the room. I was pretty good at the game and tried to get my friends to play it on a regular basis, not just for parties.
As a high school and college student I carried the idea of the tray game into the way I studied and took notes. Instead of writing on the lines, I often wrote at odd angles or in blobs.. The unusual pattern on the page stuck in my brain and helped me to remember facts, words, and formulas better. It was as if the page was a party-game tray full of ideas and images.
If this way of learning was supposed to fade as an adult, it hasn’t for me. Notes from lectures and conferences are still in blobs and odd configurations on the pages of my notebooks and journals. Colored highlighters and pencils emphasize and underline important words and thoughts. Praying in color is one of the main ways I pray because it engages my body, my eyes, and my mind, but also because the colorful and visual display helps me to remember my prayer list better.
It is January 15, Martin Luther King Day, the ninth day after the Feast of the Epiphany. Every year I mourn the passing of Epiphany as just a single day on January 6. Epiphany deserves more attention than it gets, so some of us think of it as a whole season lasting until Lent. It means “shining forth” and is really the “So what?” after Christmas. It is the story of strangers following a star to a babe in the manger, of Jesus’s baptism, and of his first miracle. Epiphany is about how this story spreads like wildfire beyond the boundaries of a small town in the Middle East and scatters the Gospel in faraway places to faraway people. Martin Luther King was an Epiphany man. He spread the not-always-comfortable good news of the Gospel in his preaching and his activism.
There are so many juicy words, ideas, and names associated with Epiphany that I want to put them on a tray and commit them to memory. So I made an Epiphany Word Tree and taped it on the wall. It will stay there until Lent. My prize for memorizing the words will be a rich vocabulary and the Gospel story that strings them all together.
You, too, may have words and stories you associate with Epiphany. Find a way to keep them in your sight and your thoughts during these next few weeks before Lent.
Advent morphs into Christmas. The #AdventWord calendar is now the swaddled babe. The Advent tree becomes a Christmas tree. Equipped with the skills of Advent we become Christmas people, followers of Jesus—laying the groundwork and working for the emerging kingdom of God.
.Advent seems so short this year. This is the sixteenth day of Advent and already three Sundays of Advent are gone. Here are my two daily disciplines for this Advent:
1) I have been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent. The daily readings are challenging and loaded with fresh and surprising Advent words. Each day I choose a word that jumps out at me, write it on a small envelope, and doodle while I think about the word. I pin the envelope on the Advent tree (i.e. our future Christmas tree). Some of the words on the tree are: Relinquish, Solidarity,Protest, Welcome, Outrageous…. This collection of words and Brueggemann’s meditations remind me that Jesus’s coming into the world is meant to turn my comfy, tame life on its head, that “God’s rule of starchy justice and generous mercy will arise on the earth…” Coins and dollars we collect in the envelopes will go to some organization that witnesses to that starchy justice and generous mercy.
2) AdventWord is a worldwide experience of prayer using social media and images. A new Advent word is posted each day.Recipients reflect on the word and share images or photos on a worldwide Advent calendar.The Society of St. John the Evangelist started this four years ago. This year Virginia Theological Seminary is contributing short meditations with the word. I’m using the word they provide in connection with one of the Advent calendar templates I created. The words from the Brueggemann book have captured my spiritual imagination more than the AdventWords, but I love the idea of a worldwide daily discipline of prayer and collective visual response.
Advent calendars are for adults and children. The calendar templates below offer a doable, simple discipline for each day of Advent. Instead of opening daily doors with pictures or retrieving small gifts or candies from pockets, these calendars mark the daily journey to Christmas with your prayers and drawings. The finished Advent calendar is a colorful reminder of what was in your head and on your heart each day. It is a record of the daily spiritual journey through Advent.
Here are four Advent calendar templates in both .pdf and .jpg form. Click on the words .pdf or .jpg below the version/s you want. Download first; then print. Feel free to share the calendar templates with others, for individuals or groups. Below the templates are ways to use them.
Note: I like to enlarge the 8.5″x11″ format to 11″x17″ card stock. It gives me more room to doodle and color and consequently more time and space with the person or word.
Thanks to Cindy O. for the 2017 Box Calendar template and to Jack Jeter for his creche drawing.
Ways to Use the Calendar Templates
1) In a space or shape on the calendar, write the name of someone for whom you are praying. Doodle around the name, add color. Think of each stroke of color or each doodled mark (line, dot, arc, spiral…) as a wordless prayer. If words come to you as you draw and color, pray them. Squeeze them onto the calendar in the shape or along the margins if they feel important. When you have finished with your daily entry, say “Amen” or recite a short passage of Scripture appropriate to Advent like “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Psalm 27:1)
2) Read a daily Advent reflection or meditation. Choose a word from the reading that jumps out at you. Write it in the shape and start to doodle and color. Marinate in the word. What is the word saying to you? What does God have to say to you about the word? Listening + doodling+ coloring = praying. Keep a computer or notebook next to your calendar so you can write any insights or “ahas.”
3) Write and ponder an Advent word––prepare, wait, pregnant, hope, watch, darkness, longing, light…—as you doodle and color.
4) Since Advent is a season of hope, write something you hope for each day. Offer that idea to God as you draw, write, and color.
5) For smaller children, print the calendar on 11″x17″ paper and just let them color. Light a battery-powered votive candle and give them a quiet, secret place to work. The Tree template might be a simple one for a child to use.
Remember this is not supposed to be a great work of art. Enjoy the process. The words, marks, and color end up creating a beautiful tapestry in spite of your skill level! Advent calendars can also be just black and white. No color necessary. Here are some samples of completed Advent calendars from past years. Thanks to Cindy O. and Connie D. for their calendars.
Someone recently asked me if I usually make a coloring page first before I pray. No one had ever asked me that before so I had to think about it. I’m not sure there is a usual. I don’t think of myself as a “colorer,” if that is a word. I think of myself as a doodler who adds color–an improvisational doodler who doesn’t plan and lets the pen decide where to go.
When I started to pray with doodles, it was accidental. I was doodling for fun and the name SUE popped into the doodle. It was not a conscious decision to sit down and pray for Sue. When her name “showed up,” I added other marks—dots, lines, arcs—and looked at her name. I added color. Sue was my sister-in-law with stage 4 lung cancer. As I continued to doodle, color, and focus on her name, I realized I was praying for her. My verbal prayers for Sue had felt so puny in the past. Doodling gave me a way to be with Sue and to offer her into God’s care, not necessarily using words. It created a little prayer closet where I could go to be quiet and to listen. The movement of my hand on the page invited my body into the prayer and helped me to stay in the chair. Words sometimes came to mind and I prayed them.
Praying in Color has been part of my life for fifteen years or more. So If I have a usual pattern it might look like this:
1) When I sit down to intentionally pray, I always start with a “God” doodle, using other words as well like Holy Spirit, Redeemer, Creator, Jesus, Beloved One….This focuses my doodling as prayer and not just as playful, creative doodling which I also like to do.
2) I draw a shape, write a person’s name, and add lines, arcs, dots, squiggles, doodly marks….The doodling gives me the chance to be with this person and give them to God. Sometimes I write words near the doodle–words of blessing or petition or comfort. Sometimes the words are expressions of fear or sorrow. Offering the negative feelings to God is also my prayer.
3) At this point, I might add color before I pray for someone else OR
4) I might add a doodle for another person. Mostly I pray as I go; the doodles are an organic outgrowth of my desire to pray for a person.
5) In the prayer drawings above, I prayed for each person with a black pen in this order: Suzanne, Ginny, Don and Anne, Dan, Page and Stephen. The prayer drawing grew. There are some extra shapes for future prayers. THEN I went back and added color after all of the doodles were done. It was a way to revisit each person and pray for them again.
6) If focusing on color becomes too much like an art project for me, I close my eyes and grab three or four random colors from my stash of markers. That’s what I did with the prayer above. If the color combination is really odd, it jolts my memory and I am more likely to remember my visual prayer list after my prayer time is over. When the drawing comes to mind later in the day or even in the week, I pray for each person again, in silence or with words.
The one place I intentionally created prayer coloring pages ahead of time was in my book Pray and Color. I understand that some people do not like to doodle. The pages give people the opportunity to create a visual prayer without having to draw it themselves. The book also includes explanations for a dozen or more ways to pray using the pages.
During scary times like the past few weeks of brutal weather, I am grateful for my years steeped in Scripture and liturgy. The words of my tradition have been prayed by millions of people before me throughout thousands of years of trials and tragedy. They give me a vocabulary of both lament and hope, a way to feel part of a larger community of humanity and faith.
The names in the drawing are those of family and friends who are directly affected by the hurricanes.
As a child and teen in the late 1950’s and 60’s in a firmly Protestant family, I was afraid of the symbols and physicality of my Catholic neighbors’ faith. Rosaries, medals of saints, statues of angels and Jesus, and crucifixes seemed both anti-intellectual and idolatrous. Why would anyone need these primitive objects to bolster their faith when there were words–the words of Scripture, prayers, hymns, and theological discourse? Religion was about having the correct thoughts and beliefs, wasn’t it?—not having some sentimental, visual, or tactile experience.
This snobby attitude worked for most of my life–until it didn’t, until words started to fail me in both prayer and worship. When I prayed for others, I lost my words. I could think of nothing to say except the simplest of prayers. “Heal him.” “Keep them safe, Lord.” “Please help her.” I expect God was fine with those barebones words. In the midst of this era of puny verbal prayers, I accidentally started to pray in color. A simple shape with lines, arcs, dots, and a smattering of color with a name became the visual platform for my prayers. Doodling gave me a way to get still on the inside, focus on the person I cared about, and turn my concerns over to God. My drawings were not the object of my prayer as I had incorrectly assumed rosaries, medals, and statutes were for others. But they were an avenue and aid for my prayer life. They released me from the need to have words, but gave me a way to sit in prayer.
I’ve been praying in color for fifteen years now, using it to corral my thoughts and enhance my intercessions, gratitudes, confessions, and adorations. Recently I’ve noticed that my doodles have been body parts. My husband and another friend had heart surgery. My husband had colon surgery. My friend Merry just had a extensive and painful foot surgery. Their names ended up in a heart, a colon, and a foot. As mostly an abstract doodler, I was surprised by the representational prayer drawings.
But I realized that this is not a new idea. People have been “praying with body parts” for years. Christians in Spain, Mexico, and South America use milagros and ex-votos. These are physical objects in various shapes offered to concretize a specific prayer request and a desired outcome. They can be small or large–silver, tin, wax, or wood. Since many prayers are for physical healing , many milagros are in the shape of a body part—heart, breast, kidney, intestine, foot, leg, hip. You name it. Some are small and fit in the hand. Holding them can be a tactile reminder to pray. Seeing them can be a visual reminder to pray. Often the milagros are taken to a church and placed near a candle or statue of a saint to request healing. They are also offered as a token of gratitude for answered prayer.
So I guess my doodled body-part prayers are a form of milagro. They are my way to make my prayers concrete. If words come to me as I draw, I pray them. Keeping the doodled prayers in plain sight is a prompt for me to be vigilant in prayer. On another day I add words, marks, and color to “update” my prayers. I am no longer ashamed that my prayers are tactile and visual. God does not require brilliant and articulate words from me but a willingness of spirit and an openness to God’s presence in whatever form that may come.
The milagros/ex-votos in the collage below belong to my friend Carol. They are made of wax, silver, and wood. In the third picture the wooden feet are life-sized. The silver ones fit in the palm of my hand. Click to read more about milagros and ex-votos.