When I was writing my historical novel, Ink and Honey, I was immersed in the medieval, European, monastic world. As the story (centering around a young woman scribe) developed I became increasingly passionate about the sacred art of illuminated manuscripts. The crafting of illuminations, the colorful and carefully articulated illustrations made by the scribes of the Middle Ages inspired me during my writing process to reconnect to a beloved spiritual/sacred practice, the creation of visual prayer reflections.
The book took form and I began taking periodic thirty minute breaks from writing. During these little interludes I temporarily left the world of words and concepts, to shift my attention to the realm of images. There was a particular inspirational blessing in the pause, as I experienced the sacrament of meditating with pictures and symbols.
I have continued to use this simple process not only as a respite when I’m writing. but also at other times when I feel distracted and off center. The pull of the dailies (errands, e-mail, laundry, etc.) sweeps me away in the strong current of the “River of Have-Too.” My heart begins to feel heavy with longing for a few moments of spiritual connection to bring my body, mind, and soul into balance. At times like these, I need to find the bridge that leads from the world of doing…to the world of being. Taking a few moments to refocus by using images and photos as the vehicle helps me return to the task at hand with renewed energy. I invite you to explore this creative practice as a sacrament for your daily life.
Every so often I gather a pile of accumulated magazines and spend some time tearing out images, the images that hold resonance for me. Another source for meaningful images is to sort through boxes of old photos (the castaways that didn’t make it into albums or scrapbooks). Choose photos that appear to contain a bit of “glint” or symbolic meaning that catches the eye. I look for a portion of the photo that is worth saving and snip these little gems into square or rectangular shaped mini-photos. I keep a basket of clipped images near my desk within reach for those moments when I need a break and inspiration. Additional necessary ingredients include a glue stick, scissors, and white card stock cut into 4” x 6” pieces. Unlined index cards also work nicely as a background.
The sacrament is simple. I drop whatever I’m doing when I feel myself wobbling from the “shoulds and the ought-to’s,” I play quiet music, light a candle, and take a deep breath. Then I spend a few minutes reflecting and I offer a prayer before looking through my image basket for a selection of pictures to offer inspiration and guidance for the present moment. Taking a blank 4” x 6” card I cut and glue the images into place to create my visual prayer. Words and phrases torn or cut from magazines can also be added. The idea is to do this quickly, in the moment, with spontaneity.
After the visual prayer is completed I date the card for future reference then I spend several minutes studying the story within the collage. Next, I turn the card over and write my immediate thoughts and feelings, or I scribe a poem, haiku. or prayer. Completed cards can later be laminated or stored in a photo album, basket, or index file. Often, the simple act of looking through previously made visual prayer reflections can also be a sacrament when time won’t allow the creation of a new one.
The entire process takes fifteen to thirty minutes or less. Time and time again while creating a visual prayer reflection I have felt an internal shift from frustration/overwhelm to inspiration/calm. Crossing the bridge from doing to being, through the creation of visual prayer reflection, brings me home again, to my center.