Monday, April 08, 2013

open hand, doodle, breathe, repeat

When I was kid I sat next to my friends in church and doodled. It was the highlight of the whole service. We drew notes and pictures and funny faces, passing the Sunday bulletin back and forth between us.
Whole conversations happened on those pages. They had no beginning and no end, they were a continuum of our verbal conversations, our shared lives.

This weekend I sat next to God and doodled.

I meant to start my Praying in Color practice during Lent. And I did. Sort of. Towards the end.
I kept thinking that I should have more markers, or more crayons, handy to do it right. And time. I should have more time.
And a proper sketchbook.
But then things got desperate.
So I threw all my shoulds out the window and just started with what I had on hand:
My regular little lined notebook that I carry around and fill up with everything from shopping list to journal entries and work meeting notes.
Whatever pen I had on hand. Usually blue. Sometimes red.

See, when you get down to it, the  practice of praying in color is also the practice of praying in doodles.
And doodling I can do.

When I was around the age of four or five, there was a commercial for M & M's where the catch line was "melt in your mouth, not in your hand."
My four-or-five year old mind found that line to be odd and troubling. I would lie awake in bed at night, after prayers, wondering things like "What sort of chocolate would melt in my mouth but not in my hand? How was this possible? And why hadn't I noticed before? Surely I was missing something. Or were the M & M people stupid or worse-lying?"
(I am the type of person that can overthink things easily.)

The next time I found myself in proximity to what seemed to be an unlimited supply of  these magical candies, I decided to test this theory this for myself.
First, I grabbed a handful of those tasty candy coated morsels to shove into my mouth, and then I grabbed another handful to hold on to the rest of the night.
Sometime later that evening, excited, and fairly discquested by, the outcome of my expirment, I showed my opened, chocolate covered, sticky hand to my mother. 
Look! It melted! They lied!

I don't remember what my mother said, but I do remember that she wasn't angry with me, perhaps slightly annoyed, but not angry.
I also recall that she helped me wash my hand clean,  that I wasn't allowed to have any more M&M's that night, and that my previously held  hook-line-and-sinker belief that commercials could be trusted completely was forever erased.

But it did not erase my fist clinching habit.

Over and over I seem to return to the clenched-fist state of mind.
I gather up all my worries, doubts, fears,and anxieties,pack them tightly into the palm of my hand, and then clutch my fingers around them as tight as I can.
The more worried I am, the tighter I squeeze. The more I squeeze, the harder it becomes to breathe.
Or think. Or pray.

Where to start?
This weekend I started by opening my hand and picking up a red pen, lying on my bedside table.
On the middle of a notebook page I wrote the word  Worried.
And then I drew all these lines shooting out from it.
At the end of each line I confessed something I had been clenching in my fist lately- last week, that weekend, that day, five minutes before.
No matter how big or how small. How self-absorbed or how silly.
I took each of my worries out of their dark hiding place inside my fist, and one by one, brought them into the light, naming them as I doodled.

And then I begin to breathe again.

It is a rule in yoga, that whatever you do to one side of your body, you do to the other side as well. This keeps you from being lopsided. Keeps one arm from hanging loser than the other.
I think the same may be true in prayer.
Or maybe just doodling and prayer.

After I had stretched open my Worried hand, I decided I had best open my Thankful hand as well.
And so I did.

But I couldn't help but notice, that this prayer came out slower. 
Where my worries shot from my mind to my pen to the page in mad a rush, 
my thankfulness only trickled out in small drops, following winding, looping, curling strands
And so I sat there with Thankfulness a bit longer.
Waving self-condemnation for not being thankful enough away, shooing it off like an annoying  house fly.
Instead I decided to be gentle with myself. And patient.
So I sat and waited. And listened.
And then, slowly, I began folding back one finger at a time, gently coaxing out the the words for specific people, places and things that I am particularly thankful for lately. And  the words began to take form, and to float up and out and onto the page. 

When I was finished, both my hands were open; palms facing upward, outstretched, ready.


  1. wonderful post!
    The more we declare our thankfulness, the more aware we become of all of the blessings in our lives, thus making us even more thankful.
    That's the kind of "cycle" that I want to be apart of rather than the vicious cycle of worrying.
    Thanks for sharing Jerusalem and giving me a great reminder and fresh outlook for the day! :)

  2. how lovely! thank you for this!!! (I'm hoping your book will be on my front porch today when I get home!)


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