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The Art of the Rosary: Experiencing the Rosary in Mind, Body, and Spirit

The Art of the Rosary-I discovered a new practice of the Rosary by chance one day when a client of mine cancelled at the last minute. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor with a specialty in Art Therapy and on this day, when the client cancelled, I had prepared a task for the client involving water colors. I had the paper, water, and paints ready and then I got the cancellation call. I had an hour to myself. This doesn’t happen very often to a mother of five, working part time in counseling. I recognized it as a gift. So, I decided to use the time to pray…and paint. These two practices always calm my mind and help me to focus so that I can live the virtues that I preach to my children. I found a recording that included meditations of each mystery of the rosary on Spotify and I played it while I painted. The positive experience led the behavioral scientist in me to discover what had just happened.

God created us as corporeal and spiritual beings in a material world with a desire to be with Him. And, the Blessed Mother was sent by Him to give us the Rosary as a powerful prayer that engages the mind, body, and spirit as we contemplate the mysteries of our salvation. The use of art materials and the art process can further enhance the experience of the rosary in three ways. First, the art process helps to engage the mind in a deeper, more meaningful meditation upon the mysteries. Second, the art process engages the mind and body in a singular purpose and helps to block distractions that often interfere with the meditations. Third, the art process, in conjunction with the cognitive-spiritual prayer process, stimulates connectivity between multiple parts of the brain and can enhance overall brain functioning. In some cases, it may even have the ability to slow or reverse decline in old age.

A More Meaningful Experience

I discovered that the engagement of my hands, the paper, the water, and the paint in the process of painting as I listened to a meditation upon the mysteries allowed me to intentionally hyperfocus on one particular aspect of the mystery. The imagery from the story of our salvation is rich with metaphor and there are unlimited visual aspects of each mystery. Further, each individual has a particular interpretation and may be surprised by some of the images that emerge. For example, the First Sorrowful Mystery is the Agony in the Garden. Within this mystery is the image of Christ in prayer and all that it encompasses: His figure in a humble pose of prayer, His folded hands, the beads of sweat turning to blood, the sleeping companions, the flora and fauna, the animal life, the divinity and the humanity of Christ.

Blocking Distractions

Typically, when I pray the rosary, I massage each bead and tightly close my eyes, spending a great deal of time battling the distractions of everyday life that clamor for my attention. Often, the distractions win. My experience becomes an exercise of frustration and discouragement. This is even more evident when I try to gather my family and I am met with their complete lack of ability to fight off distractions. It is no wonder that Saint Therese said, “Reciting the Rosary costs me more than using an instrument of penance.” She continues, “…in vain do I strive to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary.” However, in my experience of combining prayer with the art process, I found that distractions had a bigger obstacle to overcome if they were going to interfere with my contemplation. The engagement of my hands with my brain and the paper and paints worked together to keep my prayers on track.

Art of the Rosary Author Quote

Retraining the Brain

Poor Saint Therese! It really doesn’t have to be that difficult. It’s because of our brain: that corporeal component of our creation that was built with a bias toward the negative in order to keep us safe and survive. So, when we pray, our brain starts in with, “You have this stress at work to take care of or you will lose your job and your family will be on the street tomorrow…you have three loads of laundry you must do or your children will go to school naked tomorrow….you handled that last situation badly, you really need to do something about it…now!” And so on. In our contemporary society, however, we are no longer chased by predators at every corner. We can, and should, allow ourselves to chill. But, it will require some rewiring of our brain through intentional practices that engage cognitive and physical functions. This practice of praying the rosary while creating art will help to combat the negative bias and create a more positive bias.

There are a few things to remember when attempting this practice. First, you do not have to be an artist to do this. Second, do not judge what you create, rather, seek to understand it. Lastly, if it helps you to increase your devotion to Jesus, then continue it. If it further frustrates you, then don’t continue. God gave us a conscience and we should listen to it and do all things for the Glory of God. And, remember that whatever you do in an attempt to be with God through prayer will please Him.

For a long time I was sad because of this lack of devotion which surprised me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to say in her honor prayers which please her so much. Now, it saddens me less; I think that the Queen of Heaven being my Mother, she must see my good will and be content with it.” ~Saint Therese

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Contemplation Over A Diaper Change

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As a mom of toddler twins I do a lot of diaper changes. I bet many of you are in similar states of life. Whether you have one child, several young children close in age, or multiples, you can relate. Lately we’ve had some “issues” going around (digestive issues, teething, I’m still not sure) which generally means a few more frequent (and messy) diaper changes. So I’ve been spending a bit more time at the changing table than normal.

I’ve never really given much thought to changing diapers. It’s just something that needs to be done. I’m the oldest of four and my mother babysat in our house while I was growing up. I kind of grew up changing diapers. I don’t remember learning how to, I just remember helping out in that department whenever needed.

Recently I was changing yet another diaper for one of my children and I thought about what a privilege it is to change my two sons’ diapers.

Yep, you heard me right. A privilege.

There are a lot of things we do for our children. Some of those things last a short time, others much longer. But at some point, our children will leave the nest and move off into the world. They will no longer need us in the same way as they did as dependent infants or needy toddlers or awkward teenagers. They will always need us in some way, but there are many material or physical things we do for them in their early years that last only a short time.

Right now I am changing diapers, among many other things. Soon we’ll be into potty training and eventually they won’t need me at all in this area.

And yet, there I stood that day, changing a mess of a diaper and wondering what this little person would be one day. Many things went through my head, until my thoughts turned to the possibility that my little boy could potentially be a priest one day. I lingered over the idea as I pulled out yet another wipe while simultaneously trying to keep little feet out of the mess sitting close by.

Priest or some other career, whatever my children decide to do I’ll be proud of them as long as they are following God’s will and they work hard at whatever that is. But to have your child be a priest! What an honor, what a privilege!!

Yes, it is certainly a privilege. These are small but necessary (and sometimes unpleasant) tasks. As parents we are providing for our children’s physical, material, and spiritual needs. We nurture their bodies, minds, and souls. We all hope that our efforts will prepare our children for the world around them in whatever their vocation is.

My mind was blown away at the thought that this little, vulnerable person, whose diaper I was in the process of changing, could one day be called to the priesthood. What a thought!! And to think I once changed his diapers!

God has given us parents a gift in all these little tasks we do for our children. I can’t even imagine what the years ahead will be like, but the thought of my child as an adult is way beyond anything I can imagine. To think of him as one of God’s earthly servants, leading His people to greater relationship with Him, was mind blowing. Especially given the task I was doing.

I will probably never look at diaper changes the same again!

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I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually  transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.

My first pony

Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.

What’s around me?

My 4-H show pony

One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.

What am I doing?

My home-bred riding and driving horse

Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.

Pause and think…

My pregnant with cancer driving horse

Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.


Let’s do this…

My borrowed driving horse and his friend

Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.

Whew, that’s finished…

Sharing the love with my daughter

Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.



Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too!
*I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.