Art and Spirituality

A year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Zentangle, a spiritual practice based in meditative doodling.  I was at her house and noticed a small box with the word "Zentangle" on it, and asked her what it was.  She showed me the book One Zentangle a Day.  I was instantly interested, and purchased the book for myself, and started working my way through it.  The book starts you off with a few patterns, adding about three new patterns (called "tangles") per day.  On the third day, I started making Zentangle chalices.  This is my first one:
It incorporates pretty much every pattern I had learned at that point.  Within a couple of weeks, I started doing a chalice every day that I Zentangled, and pretty soon I was Zentangling chalices almost exclusively.

You can Zentangle in a very meditative state, or you can do it more distractedly while doing something else, from watching TV or sitting in a meeting.  I find that Zentangling chalices even when doing it in a more distracted mode is a valuable spiritual practice for me.  The chalices connect me back to Unitarian Universalism with every doodle.

Then, over the summer, my sister Carrie Landrum showed me some mandalas she had created and told me about how she was exploring mandala-making as a spiritual practice.  I noticed there were some Zentangle mandala books and products, so I added them to my wishlist and kept Zentangling chalices.

This fall, I kept Zentangling chalices, and was doing some while at my study group, Ohio River Group.  Here's one I created there:
Our subject this year was "Art and Religion" at Ohio River Group, and Susan Smith was leading the worship services.  She introduced us to the book Praying in Color and the spiritual practice described in it.  In it, you write down the name of someone you want to include in your prayers, and you start doodling around it while thinking of the person.  I found that the doodling easily could be Zentangling, and combined the two ideas and did some Zentangle/Praying in Color prayers.  I've purchased the book and am reading and incorporating some of its thoughts into my spiritual practice.  Now, sometimes I'll think of a specific person at the flame as I doodle the chalice.  I still don't usually incorporate color, but it isn't really necessary for me.  When I feel like I've reached the limitations of black and white, perhaps then I'll branch out.  What I have done is started writing down at the bottom of the page what I was thinking about or doing as I doodled the chalice.  Because of this, I can tell you what was the focus of my meditation as I doodled each of these.  Sometimes it's rather silly, such as this one, watching Doctor Who:
I think the chalice is holding back the Zygons or something.  Other times, however, it's much more meaningful.  I made this one on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings while thinking about those families as well as the family of a former member of my congregation and her son who had been murdered a week before:
For Christmas this year I received the book Zen Mandalas and am starting to incorporate mandalas now into my Zentangle chalices.  I find putting the chalice at the center of the mandala makes the mandala form and the Praying in Color form work very well together.  Here's one I drew recently while thinking of a good friend whose ex-husband, also a friendly acquaintance of mine, had recently died:

The word "mandala" as well as the word "Zen" have to be taken very loosely in this process.  I use those terms because they were applied to this form by these authors. 

It's not every day for me, but during the last year I've made one hundred Zentangle chalices.  It's been an interesting process over the last year as I have developed this spiritual practice.  I find it remarkable that restricting the format -- always a chalice, and always in a box or in a mandala -- doesn't make me feel that my creativity is restricted.  I'm always free to draw something else if I choose, and occasionally I do.  Rather, the restricted form is a way of focusing in my thoughts, and freeing me from getting distracted by what I want to do with the design as much, letting me focus on the repetitive strokes that make up the individual patterns.

That's all I really have to say about it -- for me art and spirituality both are hard to translate into words like this.  So I'll leave it here.  If you have an artistic spiritual practice, please share in the comments!


Minette said…
These are so lovely!! I am an avid tangler and a UU and love your chalice work. Mandalas are my favorite things to tangle. It's amazing how relaxing, meditative and yet intentional the process is! Enjoy. Oh and I do add color to some of mine, I love both versions, fun to play with.
Ally said…

I'm wondering if I can copy your "openwork" zentangle (the second one in your post) and use it in my RE class? I'm the new lead RE teacher at UUCWinchendon in central Massachusetts (and a fellow Zentangler!). This is an amazing image, and one that will bridge the age ranges in my one room school. I will only make enough copies for my kids (currently 7).

yours in the spirit,

Kirsty E.

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