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.
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.
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