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Visual Prayers
by Dana Reynolds

It is the eve of a full moon in autumn. Tomorrow night she will shine her brightest then wane into her slender pose, no less important than her fullness.

The leaf, now wearing the glorious colors of fallís paintbrush, will soon let go of the familiar branch and with a spiral dance to earth begin a transformation from radiant beauty into new purpose and form. These two markings of time, gifted by the moon and changing seasons, mirror my present foothold on the mysterious labyrinth of life.

I too am nearing my fullness. It is a moment in time, not unlike the hour before the leaf separates from the tree, when everything is vibrant, colorful, exquisite. Grace and fruition co-exist.

Fifty-two calendar years spell my age. The cells deep in the fibers of my psyche, body, and soul whisper to me in ancient languages from the place of dreams, "You are ageless. You carry your story and the stories of women throughout time. Your wisdom is sacred; it is womenís wisdom. Remember the gifts you were given to share."

I believe this is a universal message for the women of our generation. We are being called to remember our gifts of creativity. We have the potential to pour ecstatic beauty into our lives from the ancient well of feminine knowing. Our creations will reflect to others their unique creative gifts, while offering them healing. Each exquisite gesture of expression ignites anotherís point of inspiration. Sewing quilts and making spirit dolls, writing poetry, forming collage from our prayers, creating altars as places of devotionówe, with these sacred practices, become our wise womanís spiritual language.

As I sit in circles with women coming of age, women who have gathered from various places on the map, there is often a theme, a golden thread, running through the shared stories. It is the thread of remembering, the way the moon and the leaf remember their purposes. We are remembering who we are--a family of women experiencing the voices and visions of a collective dream. This universal revelation has a singular purpose. It is unmasked to each of us according to our unique ways of understanding. The strange repeated message composed of symbols, signs, and urgings, is simply, "Remember your gifts and share them with one another." It is through this remembering that we grow wiser.

Collectively we are remembering, both consciously and unconsciously, that we are spiritual midwives. Each of us has the potential to birth herself into the full expression of her creative gifts and healing wisdom. This birth brings us to our centers, to reclaim the knowledge we have been given to share with others through our offerings of imagination and inventiveness. Spiritual midwives are mentors, healers, and artists. Through reflection, ritual, art making, and journaling, we craft our stories into tangible form and place them on the altars in the centers of our circles. The spiritual midwife incorporates beauty and sacredness into everyday living for herself and for others.

Priscillaís broken heart is healing. She feels ready to beckon a new love relationship into her life. With this intention she is inspired to prayerfully choose touchstones and placement for an altar to call forth passion and partnering. Her choice of setting is atop an antique chest of drawers in her bedroom. A postcard depicting a timeless Rodin sculpture of two lovers entwined is her first offering. The woman in the image reminds Priscilla of herself. She places it in a gold frame to give it the importance it deserves. A tiny crystal Rosary is tenderly hung on this icon as a blessing of her intention to both embrace and be embraced. Two pink roses, the color of the heart chakra, are arranged in a small bud vase and placed nearby. Pictures of the Blessed Mother from Mexico and Russia invoke the Divine Feminineís intercession for her prayers. As a final gesture, Priscilla lights a ylang ylang and patchouli-scented candle, representing sensuality. Her altar is a visual prayer affirming that love, passion, and meaningful relationship are being invited to share her life and her healed open heart. Eventually Priscillaís gift of knowing how to arrange furnishings with sacred intention leads her to begin a new business. She now shares her intuitive understanding to help others clear their living spaces to restore tranquility to their lives. Order and flow are the result.

Our natural world demonstrates these principles. Nature stimulates our metaphorical birthing process through our senses. The moon blesses us with her light and her radiance awakens our dreams and visions; the autumn leaves provide a palette of color for our eyes. Their rustling song, accompanied by the afternoon breeze, is the song of creation. Beauty and inspiration thrive in the natural world, beckoning the muse and providing fresh kindling for our creative fires. Each new season and the ever-changing landscape of the night sky offer gifts to stir and awaken our creative imaginings.

Lee lovingly crafts a small doll with a white clay face. She fashions a body made from blue fabric printed with gold stars and moons and carefully stuffs her with cotton batting and motherly love. This visual prayer has been created for her young daughter, Emily, to represent her motherís devotion to her. Lee is away on retreat and she will present it to her when theyíre reunited. Her visual prayer holds the message that even when they are apart, they are connected by their love.

Through my work as a facilitator of womenís spiritual retreats, I have been transported deep into mystery while witnessing women, like Lee, as they birth their stories into tangible form through sacred art making. These soulful creations are actually visual prayers.

Visual prayers are born from holy intention and devotional awareness in varied forms of expression as imaginative and diverse as the situations that call them forth. The remarkable women who find themselves compelled to consciously create altars, spirit dolls, collages, hand- made books and journals, quilts, and wearable art, do not refer to themselves as artists. Most of them have always felt intimidated by the idea of making art. However, women who are moving into the later years of life often are infused with newfound courage. The old internal voices that have been negating desires to be daring and spontaneous are suddenly growing faint. A strong clear voice emerges to encourage and guide with assurance. This is the voice of the creative spirit.

One October afternoon Susan receives guidance and inspiration from the depths of her soul. She begins to choreograph a special winterís holiday experience for her parents, husband, and two grown children. Her mother and father have been divorced since she was a teenager and have remained close friends throughout the years. Susan somehow senses time is slipping away. Planning a reunion for the people she loves most in the world becomes more than just a passing thought. It is a clear calling. She finds the perfect setting, a warmly furnished farmhouse in the Texas hill country. In the days before the reunion, her own kitchen becomes a place of transformation while she prepares all the familyís favorite foods to take to the farmhouse. Susan follows her intuitive guidance and creates countless special touches. Holiday decorations, meaningful music, creative surprises--everything is perfection. It is an unforgettable time blessed with laughter and celebration.

When they return home Susan looses herself in artistic alchemy. She lovingly makes hand made memory books for her mother and father filled with photographs and quotes from their cherished holiday.

Soon after this sacred time her father becomes ill. The little book of photos transforms into a focal point on one of the many altars she creates in his home while he is dying.

Five months after her fatherís death her mother follows. The country holiday that had been a living visual prayer to Susanís family is suspended in time within the pages of her little memory books. Her feminine gift of knowing this would be a final joyful gathering called forth her gifts and she delivered them with love and caring-- the same love and caring she shared with her parents till the last.

Magic happens when a circle of women tenderly places their stories of the heart, like Susanís, into the center. We midwife one another into a discovery process that runs like a river carrying us back to our authentic natures. There is dancing and mask making. Prayer beads are strung as meditation. Tiny Goddesses are made from rich red clay. Handcrafted paper is folded into a book that is carefully rubber stamped to tell a story without words. Flowers are woven into garlands and crowns. Each creation inspires anotherís process of imagining and inventing.

Through our crafts we return to the ancient wisdom, as our hands and hearts work in unison to reveal the beauty and knowledge we have been carrying within us all along. And so, one by one, we tell our stories through our visual prayers. We make an altar to honor a healed heart, stitch reassurance into a spirit doll, craft a book of memories, or cut and paste into a collage symbolic images filled with intention.

While on retreat in California, Connie learns that her college-age son, at home in Chicago, has severely broken his leg in a soccer accident and will have surgery to repair it early the next morning. Distance prevents her from getting home in time, so she decides to stay for the remainder of the retreat. In silence, she thoughtfully gathers her materials and meticulously scissors her sonís image from a photograph, pastes it in the center of a piece of paper, and surrounds his likeness with pictures symbolizing courage and healing, clipped from magazines. The following day, our circle of women gathers before dawn, while in Chicago Davidís surgery begins. Connie places her visual prayer in the center beside the candle, and we pray in silence for Davidís healing and safe passage through the operation. That afternoon we learn all is well and that he will recover completely. One-year later Connieís visual prayer graces the familyís refrigerator, as a reminder of the healing that continues to flow.

We make visual prayers for a myriad of reasons. Opportunities to create touchstones for others and for ourselves present themselves in many ways. Sometimes the crafting becomes a co-creative process.

My mother and I reconnect after months of working through painful family issues. We are inspired to make a quilt together to celebrate our renewed relationship. I select assorted fabrics in shades of purple, the color for healing. Later I gather cherished photographs and other meaningful images and transfer them to muslin, to be integrated into the pattern. We decide the design should be a crazy quilt to reflect our complicated journey.

My mother, an artist with needle and thread, cuts the fabrics into random shapes and pieces them like a puzzle into unified form. During this collaborative process she moves to a new home, but our project continues to sew our hearts together across the miles. While she stitches, I gather ribbons, charms, and tokens from my dresser drawer: a silver moon button from a favorite dress, an ivory rose pin belonging to my grandmother, a yellow silk pansy. I send these things and other talismans to my mother. She touches them with her special brand of quilt making magic.

Months later she arrives for a visit carrying a shopping bag filled with sacred cargo, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. Together, with ritual and tears, we hang it in my prayer room. It is an exquisite tapestry of love. On the back of the quilt my mother made a small pocket from a fabric photo image of us as a young mother with her little girl, and placed in it her story of the quilt. The photo reminds me that Iím now older than she was when the picture was taken. This visual prayer presents me with the metaphor of how the bits and pieces of our journeys, when pieced together become a quilt of life, The thread binding it is made of love and forgiveness.

Time has passed since I began to put these thoughts to paper. The moon will be full tonight. The afternoon breeze sends the autumn leaves pirouetting to the ground. May we be reassured, by the observation of these wonders, that we are also moving towards fulfillment and completion.

Copyright ©2000 "Visual Prayers" is excerpted from Our Turn, Our Time: Women Truly Coming of Age, Beyond Words Publishing. Not to be used without permission. 1-800-284-9673. 

For ten years, Dana Reynolds has been facilitating womenís spiritual presentations and retreats nationwide. Her work as a Spiritual Midwife, one who assists women as they birth their creative gifts into the world, is the foundation of all her endeavors. Her background as a visual artist and writer enriches her Spiritual Midwifery: Birthing the Feminine Soul workshops.

As the creator of an art making process known as visual prayer, Dana teaches women how to combine ritual with sacred intention to create altars, collages, spirit dolls, and other touchstones. The creation of sacred spaces is also paramount to the Spiritual Midwifery experience. Her web-site http://www.sacredimagination.com offers samplings of her visual prayer collages, poetry, and a workshop catalogue.

Dana is the author of the whimsical and colorfully illustrated book, Be An Angel, a co-creation with illustrator and graphic designer, Karen Blessen, (Simon & Schuster). Her essay, Visual Prayers is included in the anthology, Our Turn, Our Time: Women Coming of Age, edited by Cynthia Black, (Beyond Words Publishing).

A trained labyrinth facilitator, Dana incorporates the labyrinth and other spiritual wisdom into her retreats and workshops. She recently traveled to Chartres and Vezelay Cathedrals in France to gather information pertaining to ancient sacred mystical traditions. She currently lectures on such topics as spiritual midwifery, sacred journal keeping, feminine spiritual wisdom, and the early Christian women saints and mystics.

Danaís life follows the spiral path from rim to center and back again. She looks for the sacred in forgotten places and openly embraces the great Mystery of life. Guiding women to the discovery of their creative inner gifts is the passion that fuels her soul.

Visit Dana's "Sacred Imagination Column and Gallery" at SoulfulLiving.com


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