I love the practice of asking for a word, allowing a word or phrase to bubble up to ponder for the new year. Words that have chosen me in the last few years include Mercy (2017), Cushion (2018), You Are Free (I needed more words that year) (2019), Carry On (2020), Truth (2021), and Consent (2022).
This tradition (for desert mothers and fathers) of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver. A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.
Christine Valters Painter
WONDER opens our eyes to synchronicity.
The images in a recent SoulCollage card brought forth the word WONDER, and it settled comfortably in my soul. The title of my card, Sit A Spell, is an encouragement to be open and receptive to the wonders of the universe revealing themselves right where we are—comfortable on our perch, walking through the seasons of life, or, even, in our thoughts and imagination.
It is only with eyes open to wonder, holy surprises, and synchronicity that we experience the humbling and awesome fall to our knees. There we are uplifted by invisible forces and surrounded by angels seen and unseen. (Synchronicity and Holy Surprise)
WONDER makes us fall to our knees.
After the word WONDER rested in my awareness, it was providential how many words of wisdom, poems, and quotes I came across in my reading. The wisdom begins in wonder decoration (pictured above) hangs around an olive oil bottle in my kitchen. I pass by it many times every day, but I realize I wasn’t really SEEING it. Waking up to meaningful coincidences, C.J. Jung said, “could shift our thinking so we recognize a greater wholeness in all of creation…It could precipitate a spiritual awakening.”
“Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.”
“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
Ana, The Book of Longings
In The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Ana writes this prayer of longing on the incantation bowl her aunt Yaltha has gifted her. “Do you know what an incantation bowl is?” Yaltha asked. “In Alexandria we women pray with them. We write our most secret prayer inside them…Every day we sign the prayer. As we do, we turn the bowl in slow circles and the words wriggle to life and spin off toward heaven.”
It’s not just a cliche. Images are powerful. They conjure up feelings, memories, ideas. They tell stories. They stand for something.
A brandmark or logo expresses the identity of a business that is easily recognized without using words. Businesses spend a ton of money developing their brand identity, not that we need the business world’s affirmation of the power of images. We already know it. We know it in our soul.
I started this website, SoulFully You, in 2014 to share information about my passion for SoulCollage® and retreats that I planned to offer. SoulFully You is about living soulfully, practicing one’s spirituality through SoulCollage®and other contemplative and creative expressions.
In 2016, I started a website called Being Benedictine, to share reflections about what it means to live as a monk in the world, following the Rule of St. Benedict as an oblate.At first, these two blogs seemed separate and distinct.
But as I have continued to write, create, and reflect, I have realized that listening to the Divine is integral to BOTH living soulfully and to being a Benedictine oblate.
There isn’t a line of separation between living creatively and listening to God.
They are one and the same. A listening heart is the foundation of creative, prayerful spiritual practice like SoulCollage® AND to being Benedictine–promising obedience, stability, and conversion of life–as an oblate.
For this reason, my 2020 vision is to slowly migrate SoulFully You blog posts to Being Benedictine under the menu heading, Visio Divina~SoulCollage®, where one can find information about SoulFully You retreats, the practice of Visio Divina (listening to God through art and images, including SoulCollage®) and blog posts specifically about using art, images and SoulCollage® to grow spiritually. You can sign up for email notifications or follow Being Benedictine on Word Press reader just as you have for SoulFully You.
Below is a sampling of posts on celebrating Earth Day using SoulCollage®.
“Altars can be very powerful…We acknowledge an incarnate God who speaks through symbols and the things of our everyday lives…” -The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner
An altar can be a centering, focal point for group or personal prayer or creativity. The altar placed in the center of our creative space during the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent Retreat held symbols of the season and the retreat—an advent wreath surrounded by fresh rosemary and a rosemary candle.
Throughout the retreat, more symbols were added. Each woman placed SoulCollage® cards they had made over the days as well as offering a single image that resonated with them that later I would create into a group card—something I’ve never done before. For the closing session, each woman lit their own rosemary candle from the larger candle and special blessings were shared.
Symbols and rituals create pathways in our hearts and minds, allowing us to carry meaningful experiences with us into our ordinary lives. Creating our group card was one such experience. With permission from the Beautiful Ones, a term of endearment coined by Sara—a dear friend and retreat participant—find reflections and I Am One Who Statements from some of our group.
Betty shared—“There was a bond formed within this retreat of Beautiful Ones that will keep us united eternally. Christ sat with us the entire time. I’m still at a loss to describe how this retreat touched and changed me. I only know since the card reading, I have learned more about myself and my relationship with God. Both have deepened to a level I have never experienced. I really can’t find words to express what is different—inner confidence I’ve lacked, acceptance of physical issues, but most of all a deepening in my trust of my Lord. My mantra, Jesus I trust in you is going to depths I never expected. I hope all of you realize that it was your presence and spirit that guided me too. Continue reading “Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card”→
The inspiration for my 2020 Word(s) of the Year came from the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent retreat that I recently led. The retreat was centered around the theme of sanctuary, inspired by the lyrics of Sanctuary written by Carrie Newcomer.
There were several questions participants were asked to consider as a guide for them during the retreat. “What do I need sanctuary from?” touched my heart.
I shared that I need sanctuary from the endless flood of thoughts that preoccupy my mind; thoughts that hold me back and keep me from being truly free. I need sanctuary from the constant rerun of conversations and/or situations that have led to hurt feelings and a sense of rejection. I need sanctuary from the relentless inner conversations that distract me from living fully and hold me a prisoner in the role of victim.
When I have strong feelings or attachments, compulsive mental role-playing commences. I replay conversations—what was said, what I could have or should have said, what he/she meant, and on and on. Once I can slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can hear more clearly what God intends for me to know.
Being clear about what I need to detach from—my thoughts—was the creative fuel I needed to intuitively make my first card named “Sanctuary.”
“Our logical thinking mind cannot leap out of the loop, but our intuitive mind can step back and watch….the logical mind usually misses the symbolic voice heard by the intuitive senses.” Discernment Matters, Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
A culminating activity of the retreat was a SoulCollage® reading. Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by selecting one card we made during the retreat and randomly selecting two other Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.
This session closes our Advent retreat, Sprigs of Rosemary—a retreat that can be adapted to any schedule and, certainly, can be used any time of the year. This final post recognizes that YOU are a temple of God, a home for God in the world, the ultimate sanctuary for the Divine.
Advent leads us from the darkness of the womb to the light of Christ at Christmas. As we journey through the weeks, we circle the Advent wreath lighting a new candle each week—a reminder that our waiting ends, that Christ will come. But it can also set our intention to be a dwelling place for God, to remind ourselves that Christ is incarnated in us. “Sanctuary” by Maranatha Music is a prayerful reminder:
Creating SoulCollage® cards has been the focus of the Sprigs of Rosemary retreat sessions so far, but there are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. This prayer, recommended by St. Benedict, embraces the universal roles, the archetypes, of Inner Monk and Inner Artist, instead of the worldly roles that we know we can never be fully satisfied with. Planted deep within us are these archetypes that fuel our desire for solitude and prayer, creativity and expression.
It is so important to cultivate sacred friendships, to make space for people to experience giving and receiving the unconditional love that God extends to us.
Soul friends, or anam caras, can bring us joy, humor, understanding, compassionate listening, comfort, or consolation—and the intuition to know what we need sanctuary from. For nearly 17 years, I have met with a circle of friends to read and discuss spiritual books. We have gone through several iterations as members have, sadly, passed away, moved away or moved on, but we provide sanctuary for each other that I am grateful I can count on.
In Session 1, we contemplated the lyrics of Sanctuary, written by Carrie Newcomer, and explored the power of images to tap into our intuition through collage. Expressing one’s creativity allows time and space for new ideas to bubble up, for questions to surface, and for meaning to take hold.
“Images attract the attention of the right side of our brains, and when there are only images, this intuitive side stays in charge and will go deeper into the uncharted territory of the psyche. It is this side of our brain that can see the whole picture at once and surprise us with wise answers that seem to come from some deeper place.” Seena Frost, SoulCollage Evolving
Contemplative Session 2: Sanctuary in Thin Places
The Caim Symbols, as with images, can represent something beyond a surface level of understanding, pointing to the abstract. Symbols can become an important part of rituals, helping cement an idea or intention and give energy to creativity and prayer.
While researching sanctuary as a theme for this retreat, I discovered two symbols that illuminated the notion of creating sanctuary. The first is the Celtic Christian symbol, caim. A caim can be practiced as a ritual of circling oneself with prayerful protection in dark times. There is a power in a symbol that embraces its meaning and yet goes beyond—it can be a reminder of being loved and safe during times when one feels uncertainty.
“The “caim” involves simply drawing a circle around yourself or another person physically or in your imagination. This encircling prayer is grounded in our awareness of the constant companionship and protection of the divine. It reminds us that God is in this place. Often, as they embarked on journeys or felt at risk, Celtic pilgrims would inscribe a circle around themselves as a reminder of God’s ever-present companionship and protection.
Practicing the encircling prayer is simple. Pause and then take a moment to draw a holy circle around yourself or, imaginatively, around a loved one. Use your index finger as a way of inscribing the circle around you. As you draw the protective circle, you may use a traditional or contemporary prayer of encircling. You may also choose to write and read your own personal prayer for yourself or another. But, in any case, the power of a spiritual tradition often finds its most lively expression when we embody it from our deepest spirit and in the language of our own hearts.”
The Mandorla It was serendipity that brought me to the next symbol and image—the mandorla. During a retreat on the St. John’s Bible, an acquaintance shared with me how important the mandorla was to her spirituality. Thinking she was mispronouncing mandala, she shared with me that the mandorla is an ancient sacred symbol used in icons. The union of the circles, an almond shape, create the mandorla. Italian for “almond”, also known as a vesica piscism, it is a symbol of new life and fertility. It is often used in Christian art to frame Jesus or Mary.
Within days I came across a few other references of mandorlas used in icons—and then came the inevitable falling-down-the-rabbit-hole-of-the-internet-research. I had no idea how often the mandorla was used in art and how deeply archetypal the meaning is. In Christian art, mandorlas represent sacred moments that transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection and Transfiguration of Jesus and the Dormition of the Theotokos and symbolize the Christ Light. The two circles can symbolize the balance between seeming opposites—body and soul, physical and spiritual, masculine and feminine, light and dark, togetherness and solitude.
We go to the light, the mandorla, as a contemplative space for sanctuary. The mandorla is that in-between space, that “thin place” where we can carve out time to be in the presence of God, a place of sanctuary where we can rest in the tension of opposites. We are called to be this Christ Light for each other, but it is the balancing of together and alone, being and doing that we desire.
Read and Reflect
“If there is anything the stories of Advent and Christmas want to impress upon us, it’s that heaven and earth are in conversation. These weeks invite us to eavesdrop. We listen in as angels appear to people in their dreaming, their working, and in other corners of their ordinary lives. We travel with wise ones who watch the heavens and follow a star. We hear sacred texts that tell us of a God who takes flesh and enters into our human existence. Again and again we see points of passage between the realms, giving us cause to wonder if the wall between the worlds is weaker than it often seems.
Celtic folk have long called such points of passage thin places. In the physical landscape and in the turning of the year, there are spaces where the veil between worlds becomes permeable. Heaven and earth meet there; past and future intertwine with the present, or fall away entirely.
In Christianity and other traditions, specific locations have been recognized as thin places. These sites often become destinations for pilgrimage, with the presence and prayers of visitors across the centuries seeming to make the veil thinner still. Yet the meeting of worlds is not purely location-dependent; thin places happen where they will. Sometimes called thin moments, they can occur in any spot that inspires us to open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the presence of God, who imbues creation and goes with us always.
My friend Brenda says, Part of what makes life hard is that it’s mostly thick places. One of the wonders of thin places is that they have the ability to occur in those thick places, those riddled-with-life spaces, those moments or seasons made of muck and struggle. Think again of the stories that come to us at this time of year; they are nothing if not earthy. For all their seemingly supernatural elements, they are rich in the stuff of real life: pregnancy, loss, travel, pasture, manger, creatures, birth.
At the heart of the conversation that unfolds during Advent and Christmas is this: when heaven and earth meet, they meet in our midst. The Incarnation does not happen at a remove; it happens among us, inescapably intertwined with all this world holds. What does this mean for us here and now, in this world, in this time? How do we welcome the God so willing to come to us?
Source: Jan Richardson (Jan offers a free Women’s Christmas Retreat every year at Sanctuary of Women. I lost track with all of my research where I found this article she wrote and some of the questions below, but I’m sure it is from one of her retreats. She writes amazing poetry and has the most beautiful art.)
Consider journaling with the following questions or making a collage card using these questions as a guide.
How can we find sanctuary in the thick places, in everyday life?
When have you sensed heaven and earth at play together, a thin place that opened up to you? What did you find there? What did you take with you when you left?
Is there some part of your life that feels like a particularly thick place — an aspect that feels especially complicated or mundane, or seemingly resistant to the presence of God? What do you need there? How might it be for you to simply sit with that space and ask God to meet you in the midst of it?
What does this mean for us here and now, in this world, in this time? How do we welcome the God so willing to come to us?
Creative Practice Consider the symbols, images, and questions in Session 2. Journal, create a collage, write a caim prayer, contemplate, visualize the mandorla as the light of Christ that brings balance to all of life.
Listen to “Behold, All Things Are New” by Alana Levandoski.
Share your insights or creations in the comments. Session 3 coming soon. Blessings, Jodi