Gladness and Thankfulness

This is the second installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When I was asked to write about gratitude, I realized that I have spent much of this year being thankful for so very much—my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers, the people who attend Grace, Ridgway, and the people of this diocese. But there’s more than just the long, long list of people for whom I am thankful. There’s a lifetime of events, and a whole lot of mistakes, that have shaped who I am, the kind of person, the kind of Christian I am. I started out thinking about my gratitude for these people.

But then I started writing, and I kept finding myself back, just over eighteen months ago, on my knees in church on a typical Sunday. Maybe not so typical in that I was so frustrated that what I believed I was being called to do simply wasn’t happening. I felt overwhelmed with the burden of not knowing where I was supposed to even begin; I had no idea what I needed to do. I was angry–more angry and frustrated–than I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt lost, invisible, and ignored. And I was exhausted from what feels like a lifetime of fighting to be heard and to be seen. I was tired of arguing with managers at work for fair treatment; I was tired of defending my parenting choices with my mother. Add in years of being a single parent, a history of clinical depression, and the hundreds of times I was the only one on the PTA or the Bishop’s Committee speaking up on certain topics. I was, in my own words, tired of having to fight all the time.

During the sermon that day, Fr Alan was telling a story about God taking a man and placing him near a very large boulder. God tells the man, “Push the rock.” The man pushes the rock; the rock doesn’t move.  The man continues to push the rock; the rock continues to not move. After a time, God returns to see the man. The man complains, “Lord, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I can’t move this rock!” God responds, “My son, I didn’t tell you to move the rock. But now you are strong enough for the work I have for you. Come with me.”

Then, I’m on my knees, begging God to take my anger away. I’m telling Him how very tired I am over and over and over. And I’m crying. I can’t see, because that happens sometimes. I’m repeating the litany of battles I’ve fought, begging to have it end. And in my blindness, in my tears, God responds, “Just what do you think all that was for?”

In the months since then, I have moved through a good many conversations with God, as well as conversations with others who have shared their thoughts and insights. There’s been a lot of scripture, some found and some searched for.

I am overwhelmed with gladness and thankfulness for the people God has given me. For the ones who have guided, for the ones who have listened, for the ones who have simply loved. I’m even thankful for the ones who have caused pain and grief, for the lessons they’ve taught me.

I’ve heard it said that all prayer can be boiled down to two things:  help me and thank you. I have spent a lot of my life asking for help. I find myself, more and more these days, saying, “Thank You,” to God for His mercy in forgiving and loving me, His wisdom in those persons He has given me, and His peace as I learn to rest in Him. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” ~Ephesians 1:16

Cheryl Whipple Mumford is a member of Grace Episcopal Church, Ridgway. 

2018 Diocesan Lenten Day of Prayer

As we observe Lent, we would invite individuals and congregations throughout the Diocese to join us in a 12-hour Day of Prayer on Friday, March 9, from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM.  Four congregations will be serving as host sites:

  • Church of the Ascension, Bradford (26 Chautauqua Place, 16701)
  • Holy Trinity, Brookville (62 Pickering Street, 15825)
  • St. Mark’s, Erie (4701 Old French Road, 16509)
  • St. John’s, Sharon (226 West State Street, 16146)

All host sites will have their sanctuary open throughout the day for prayer, and will join the Diocese in times of common prayer. In addition, each site may offer additional scheduled or on-going prayer including Stations of the Cross, healing prayer, a labyrinth, community prayerwalks, The Great Litany, or centering prayer.  The schedule (which could be updated with additional events) is as follows:

9:00 AM       All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren*: Morning Prayer (Psalm 88, Genesis 47:1-26, 1 Cor. 9:16-27)

11:00 AM     St. John’s: The Great Litany

12:00 noon   All Host Sites and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Noonday Prayer

12:05 PM     St. John’s: Stations of the Cross

2:00 PM       St. John’s: Centering Prayer

5:00 PM       St. Mark’s and Trinity Memorial, Warren: Stations of the Cross

5:15 PM       All Host Sites: Evening Prayer (Psalms 91-92, Mark 6:47-56)

5:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Taize Evening Prayer

7:00 PM       St. John’s: Eucharist

8:15 PM       Holy Trinity: Contemplative Compline

8:30 PM       St John’s, St. Mark’s, Ascension, & Trinity Memorial, Warren: Compline

During this day of prayer, we especially ask prayers for discernment in the Northwestern Pennsylvania-Western New York collaboration, for the mission and ministry of our diocese, for increased evangelism throughout our region, and for the needs of our local congregations.

Individuals and congregations are encouraged to participate by joining a neighboring host site for as much of the day as you are able or by joining in the common times of prayer from your own congregations or homes.

For more information, please contact Canon Vanessa Butler (814.456.4203) or the Rev. Adam Trambley (724.347.4501).

*Additional Addresses:

Trinity Memorial, Warren (444 Pennsylvania Ave. West, 16365)

Lenten Preparation – Books for the Journey

Ash Wednesday is only a week away, and here at the Forward we’re preparing for Lent by slowing down, cutting back on screen time, and committing to prayer, introspection – and a LOT of reading!

We recently polled people from around the diocese for suggestions on texts that would be useful guides on our Lenten journey, which you’ll find collected below. It’s an eclectic mix of authors, books, poetry, meditations, and some guided Bible exploration. We hope that you will find something here that speaks to your soul and provides some spiritual food for thought.

Have a blessed Lent, and happy reading!


Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis 

In this book Lewis talks about his coming to faith in part through the experience of “Joy” which is distinct from mere pleasure or happiness and is in fact an apprehending of the presence of God. My favorite quote from the book is “a young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” I think a corollary is also true, “a Christian who wishes to remain in charity with his/her neighbors cannot be too careful of his/her reading, either.”  – The Rev. Stacey Fussell

Final Words from the Cross by Adam Hamilton

The author leads a study and discussion on the traditional last statements of Jesus.  He shares several stories, historical information and questions for discussion, as well as guided prayer for 6 sessions.  A DVD, leader’s guide and book are included – giving the leader adequate and formational support.  It is a good study and intentional focus on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for Lent.  – The Rev. Erin Betz Shank

Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom

One of the books that has most deeply influenced my life as a Christian is Beginning to Pray by Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.  Bloom invites his readers to journey along the road of prayer with him, understanding all of us (including himself) as beginners to prayer.  Bloom addresses a large variety of issues related to prayer in a short approachable book including: a feeling of the absence of God, orienting ourselves towards fullness of life, managing our times of prayer, and the power of being in relationship with the living God.  May this book impact your prayer life as deeply as it has mine.   –  Craig Dressler

The Shape of Living by David F. Ford

In this book David Ford explores, from the Christian perspective, the challenge of living a Christian life in the world of the overwhelmed. He theorizes that we are ALL overwhelmed and suggests ways to explore living in this new reality.  – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown 

In a season that tells us to “remember that you are dust,” it’s good to be reminded that while we are imperfect, we still have value, and God and others love us despite our imperfect natures. This early book by professor Brené Brown not only discusses imperfection, but provides ten focus guideposts to assist us toward embracing more wholehearted living – cultivating calm and stillness, gratitude, authenticity, and more.   – Megin Sewak

Pauses for Lent by Trevor Hudson

[Trevor] offers a daily Scripture, prayer and questions for the day for reflection and prayer.  Lent is about repentance, and so even though I have not used this resource, I think it may be a good option to help us ask the tough questions for how we must change our broken ways into God’s image and intentions.  – The Rev. Erin Betz Shank

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

– Recommended by The Rev. Elizabeth Yale

When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd

This is an excellent read for anyone searching to determine what the next step is in their spiritual life. She especially believes that patience poses an essential posture in seeking a deeper relationship with God.  – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan by Mary Lou Kownacki

This book of spiritual poetry is a conversation between a 19th century Buddhist monk and a 20th century Roman Catholic Benedictine from Erie.  Thought-provoking, inspiring, and occasionally funny, these poems dig deeply into an all-embracing compassion that spans centuries, traditions, and human hearts.   – The Rev. Adam Trambley

Falling Upward by Richard Rohr 

Carl Jung wrote that ‘one cannot live the afternoon of life according the program of life’s morning,’ which is the topic of Falling Upward.  Rohr invites his reader into a journey that only the second-half of life can bring, when God calls us to go more deeply into ourselves and unlearn much of what we have constructed about our world.  For those willing to take that risk, an incredible journey of falling up into God awaits.  Whatever your age, Rohr provides space for you in this short, but thoughtful book.  –  The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Spirituality of Imperfection by Kurtz and Ketcham

This book explores the spiritual life from several perspectives besides Christianity.  Filled with moving stories, testimonies, and insights, the authors invite us to open our hearts and mind to that which lives beyond us in the world of the Spirit.   – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

God’s Abiding Love: Daily Lenten Meditations and Prayers by Henri Nouwen

I have a booklet that I’ve used for the past couple of years that I read every night during Lent before I go to sleep – it begins with a passage from the Bible, followed by a small dissertation and ends with a one-sentence prayer.  It gives me a sense of calm and peace, if even for a few minutes, during a season that isn’t for me anyway and of trying to do something during Lent.   – Anne Bardol

Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith makes an excellent Lenten companion.  This slim book is filled with Nouwen’s insights, and his stories lead the reader to consider her/his own self and faith journey.  Each chapter concludes with prayer and journaling suggestions, offering a guided way to spend time in silence and reflection.  – The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Three Marriages by David Whyte

This is a wonderful book that explores the three vocations of everyone’s life: the call to work, the call to self, and the call to relationships.  The premise:  “We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.” – The Rev. Canon Al Johnson

Teaching Faith with Harry Potter: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators for Multigenerational Faith Formation by Patricia M. Lyons

With over 400 millions copies sold worldwide, translated into 68 languages, a movie franchise worth more than $25 billion, and a universe expansion with the release of the Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them movies, Harry Potter is a language that A LOT of people speak. Through the Harry Potter story and characters, J.K. Rowling’s story, and some personal reflection, Patricia Lyons brings out the messages of faith that permeate this cultural phenomenon. It is a great read for HP fans and those who might be curious about its ties to faith. – Missy Greene

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

Just because Lent arrives, doesn’t mean life slows.  For the busier soul, perhaps a daily dose of Mary Oliver’s poetry, particularly my favorite of her collections, A Thousand Mornings, would be an excellent addition to one’s day.  Oliver’s poems are centered in nature but take the reader to beautiful, soul-filled places.  Although not explicitly religious, I never read Oliver without encountering the sacred. – The Rev. Melinda Hall

The Good Book Club – Forward Movement

For those who would like to spend more time with the Bible, Forward Movement is now offering the Good Book Club – a free guided reading of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, with additional suggested readings and a downloadable discussion guide for groups. Learn more about the Good Book Club and sign up for updates here.


Do you have reading suggestions that didn’t make it on the list? Feel free to share in the comments section below! 

A Different Kind of Fast

There are times when life seems to flash by in a whirlwind – particularly so when in the midst of holiday seasons. It feels like we just wrapped up our Christmas celebrations, and yet in just a few weeks we’ll be heading to church for Ash Wednesday services! This year, instead of blinking and finding out that it’s practically Easter, I’m attempting to be more mindful and actually experience Lent, rather than letting it flash by.

As part of a previous Lenten series on the Forward, Fr. Adam Trambley shared a two-part article about fasting. In it he mentions how the act of fasting can lead to self-control in other areas:

If we can deny ourselves food for a day, maybe we can also deepen our self-control in other aspects of our life. Maybe we can control our tongues when a piece of juicy gossip or a harsh word is on its tip.  Maybe we can turn off the TV or the Facebook feed when we should really be saying our prayers before bed.

That final line is definitely food for thought. If you are like me (or just the average American adult, according to Nielsen media analytics), you spend close to 11 hours a day immersed in media: web surfing, checking Facebook, binge watching shows on Netflix– we’re plugged in most of our waking hours. It’s difficult to concentrate, let alone engage in thoughtful self-examination or meditate on the word of God, when trying to keep up with the influx of information coming through the screen day in and day out. I’m definitely guilty of checking my Facebook feed before bed, and my husband will often start streaming an episode of Agents of Shield after he’s supposedly settled in for the evening. It’s not restful, and definitely not prayerful.

While I don’t plan to commit to a complete ‘digital fast’ this year (which would be a little difficult in my line of work!), I do want to take some steps to cut down on mindlessly surfing social media and reclaim some of that time for more God-centered activity. My current thought is to set aside one hour each evening before bed for prayer, reading, and journaling (or as I like to think of it, meditating on paper). No more Words with Friends after 11 pm!

If you too are interested in stepping back from the screen this Lenten season, near the beginning of February we’ll be posting an article with reading recommendations to give you a jump start on your journey. Do you already have a book in mind that speaks to your soul? Feel free to share the title in the comments section!

Megin Sewak is Assistant for Communications for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Daughters of the King – Prayer, Service, Evangelism

The newly formed Martha Chapter of The Order of the Daughters of the King was instituted at Trinity Episcopal Church in New Castle on all Saints Day.  Kathy Paulo, Province III Daughters of the King Vice President, presented the charter to the Rev. Erin Betz Shank. Twelve Daughters of the King from the Diocese of Northwestern PA and the Diocese of Pittsburgh participated in the Services of Institution and Admission.  The three new daughters, Pamela Chill, Ashlie Sochor and Laura Betz, completed a three-month discernment period during which they participated in a twelve-part course of study.  Their final step was to take vows pledging to live a life of prayer, service and evangelism and to dedicate themselves to the spread of Christ’s Kingdom and the strengthening of the spiritual life of their parish.

Martha Chapter is the second chapter to be formed in the Diocese of Northwestern PA.  Grace Chapter at St John’s in Franklin was instituted in 2005.  The Rev. Sean Rowe, then rector of St. John’s, received the charter for the newly formed chapter and admitted six women to the Order.  Today the chapter has 24 members, including four women from the Grace Lutheran congregation which shares space at St. John’s.

The idea for the lay order was conceived in 1885 by a group of women in a NYC Sunday School class and has grown to include over 25,000 women and girls in the USA and more than 5,000 members in 21 other countries.  Though officially an Episcopal lay order, the Daughters of the King has embraced ecumenism by welcoming into its membership women from the ELCA, Roman Catholic, Moravian and Anglican Churches.

No chapter can do all things, but, following a Rule of Life, Daughters serve their clergy, parish and community whenever and wherever they can.  They take to heart their motto which ends with the words, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

You are encouraged to consider how a Daughters of the King Chapter could strengthen the spiritual life and outreach of your parish or mission.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s, Franklin. 

The Daughters of the King Institute a New Chapter

The congregations of the Diocese of Northwestern PA are invited to join the celebration as the Grace Chapter of the Order of the Daughters of the King travel to Trinity Episcopal Church in New Castle on November 5th to institute the newest chapter of their order.

The Order of the Daughters of the King is an international lay order for women of the Episcopal Church. New members take vows promising to live a life of prayer, service, and evangelism. Prayer is the foundation from which their service grows, and they are willing to pray for anyone looking for love and help in time of need. It is not a social club, but they are social and like to have fun. However, one does not just pay dues and start coming to meetings. Prospective members are required to complete a study course consisting of 12 sessions spanning 6-8 weeks, and upon completion they take vows promising to follow a Rule of Life.

The new Martha Chapter is only the second chapter to be formed in the Diocese of Northwestern PA. It joins Grace Chapter, St. John’s Franklin, which was established in 2005 while Bishop Sean was rector. Grace Chapter participates in a number of service projects, the latest of which is their Prayer Tent ministry. During Applefest in Franklin, they set up a large tent on the St. John’s front lawn, and passersby are invited to stop by for free water and prayer. Prayer requests can be left on provided cards, or people may pray with chapter members in person. Grace Chapter also accepts prayer requests from the church and community throughout the year, as well as participating in projects ranging from collecting Christmas gifts for the residents of Sugar Valley Lodge, sending cards to shut-ins, and AHOY (Anonymously Honoring Our Youth), where adults pray specifically for the young people of their church.

More than a dozen women from Grace Chapter will travel to New Castle on the 5th to present the charter during the 10 AM Eucharist. The three women forming the new chapter are very excited, and the congregation is planning a potluck dinner to celebrate following the service.

Falling Into Quiet

My daughter and I have very different views of summer vacation. When the goodbyes are said on the last day of school and the bus pulls away for the final time that year, she sees three months of relaxation, time in the sun, and that word dreaded by parents everywhere – boredom. I see a calendar crowded with activities: summer soccer league, football and marching band camps, Fourth of July parties and the obligatory nine hour drive for a visit with the in-laws, summer reading at the library and the ever-growing list of house and yard chores that depend on warmer weather to complete.

Summer in the church isn’t a slow time, either. Every year after Pentecost and the end of formation classes church secretaries catch their collective breath and say, “Oh, good – now things will ease up a bit!” Of course, then it really begins: wedding season is in full force, church cleanup days need scheduled, there’s preparation for Blessing of the Backpacks and the beginning of the new formation year – constant activity.

The news is also full of activity during these months. We’re somewhat blessed in our area when it comes to summer weather, but in many places the season often brings with it extremes of heat and storms, and we’re called more than ever to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. (Episcopal Relief and Development is doing important work now in the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey. You can learn more at their website here.)

With all this and more going on each summer, I can’t say that I find the season to be either slow, or particularly relaxing. There’s far too much to do, and so little time to do it in! It’s easy to become discouraged and let what should be a joyful time instead turn into just another day to get through. I’ve decided this year, though, that I’m going to break the cycle.

Now that school is in session and life is falling back into a semblance of a routine, I’ve begun taking moments where I “fall into quiet”. When the bus has pulled away from the curb and I can no longer see my girl waving goodbye from the window, I take my cup of coffee and walk to the far end of the house, away from any hustle and bustle on the road. I stand in the doorway looking out over the backyard, enveloping myself in peace, birdsong, and quiet, preparing for the coming day.

It’s in the quiet moments, when the distractions and noise and business of life are put aside, that I really feel the presence of God. When it’s quiet, really quiet, I can hear the voice that says, “Come to me, you who labor, and I will give you rest.” Then, refreshed, I take a deep breath, finish my coffee, pick up my to-do list, and continue the work of the day ahead, because I’ve been reminded that I’m not laboring on my own.

Summer may not always be relaxing, but I hope yours has been full and joyous, and that you’ve found moments to “fall into quiet” with God when you’ve needed them most. God’s peace to you.

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of NWPA. 

The Personal Nature of Prayer Life

Your prayer life is like a fingerprint – no one has the same.  Our journey through life says it all.  I must admit though, “writing” about one’s prayer life comes close to asking about one’s sex life!  To me it has been a private matter, but when asked to share about prayer, I wanted to do the subject justice by telling how I arrived at this point of life at the tender age of 79.

I grew up in the church and received Christ into my life at 26 years of age through reading an old book, “Transforming Friendship” by Dr. Leslie Weatherhead.  I accepted Jesus as leader of my life and bridge to God, our Father, by His sacrifice on the cross. I had a conversion experience,  was confirmed in the Episcopal Church and several years later experienced the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” during the Charismatic renewal in Pittsburgh.  During this time I was in a prayer group of about 30 plus people for a period of five years.  This was an intense time of Bible study, personal growth and prayer.

The first reality I discovered after my conversion experience was that Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit wanted a “relationship” with me.  It was an intimacy of mind and heart that was so overwhelming.  What developed then was a “trust” – that no matter what my thoughts were, I could speak to this Trinity with total honesty, provide an open mind and be assured that I would receive guidance, comfort, forgiveness and spiritual grace.

My family then moved to north central Pennsylvania and I became very active in my church, becoming LEM II, choir, altar guild, vestry and ECW leader.  I also attended several classes at the Diocesan School for Ministry and was appointed to the Diocesan ECW Board as the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer Representative.  I attended Cursillo and gave a couple talks at the Diocesan Mission Conference.  It was during this period that I wrote a prayer/poem, Special Friend.  All this activity occurred during 30 years.

Looking back I must confess – studying the Bible had been like reading a history book and just provided verification for my conversion and spiritual experiences.  The BCP (Book of Common Prayer) was not a book I turned to for “spiritual uplifting”.  Also, prayer came with difficulty – whether said out loud or in my mind.  I never seemed to have the “right words” and I didn’t feel comfortable praising God either – “why did He need praised?”

But, nevertheless, Our Lord had a Way – a niche and I never saw it coming.  I believe it began when I was preparing a talk and was searching the BCP when I came across the definition of prayer (page 856).  “Prayer is responding to God, by thoughts, by deeds with or without words.”   Now that put me into a Receiver position, i.e., I did not have to make up beautiful words to pray – instead I was to receive and respond.  God was the Initiator – but how was I to respond?

This quest led me into Contemplative Prayer.  I read Thomas Merton’s  “Open Mind, Open Heart” and listened to Thomas Keating’s lectures on “Centering Prayer.”  I did not have to “make up” anything – just be quiet!  I also learned that God did not need me to praise Him for His benefit or ego.   God wanted me to praise Him for my benefit.  My praise was to open my heart to Him.  Again, the BCP: ( page 857),  “……God’s Being draws praise from us.”  Now that was a very good reason to me!

The “speaking in tongues” gift that I had received over 50 years ago also served the purposes of praising God – in a prayer language. Occasionally, when I could no longer think of what to say, I could use my voice to express what my heart felt.  It was like expressing love using your voice and you knew that what you said was right and not orchestrated – you did not have to think about what to tell God how or what you wanted Him to do; you just provided the sacrifice of your time and voice.  This I could do out loud or silently.

Also, if ever I have the opportunity to participate in “laying-on-of-hands” for prayer ministry, I encourage it.  There is a special intensity which breaks through and creates community and sharing of one spirit.  It is like a marriage of our spiritual selves together for the common good.

I have now arrived on my prayer journey.  Now upon hearing Scripture and BCP prayers in church,  I know they have been written by others who have been inspired.  My approach to prayer now begins with honesty of mind and heart.  As I begin to be open in prayer, I usually like to “name” what I am thinking.  I try to find a word to best express what is bothering me or the reason I think this or that.   It is kind of like confession.   I then turn that thought to God’s will for healing, forgiveness or release.  I lift up names in petition knowing that God knows their needs.  I like to practice silence in the style of contemplative prayer – just basking in His presence. “For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough” (Claire, Outlander by D. Gabaldon, Chpt. 38). Occasionally, I use my prayer language – especially in times of joy.  I also delight in His blessings and gifts of ideas or humorous coincidences that could only come from God’s unique Grace and Blessings.  Prayer has become a very safe and loving place.  Amen.

Diane Pyle is a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Emporium, and the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer Representative on the Diocesan ECW board. 

Painting Icons as Prayer

Icon by Canon Martha IshmanRecently, I spent a week at Kanuga immersed in painting (some would say writing) my very first icon. I went into the experience not knowing what to expect and not really being sure whether or not I even liked icons. I have a few and I cannot say they ever spoke to me in a very deep way. What attracted me to the workshop was an opportunity to do something concrete that nonetheless spoke to my soul.

We began with a board prepared with gesso—twelve layers of it in fact! It was completely white and as the instructor said, represented chaos out of which we were going to bring order. To be more accurate, she said God working through our hands would bring the order. The first step was transferring the image to the board and then etching that image into the gesso. After that, we added layer after layer of egg tempura paint, gold leaf and at times India ink.

The entire process was immersed in prayer. Holy Eucharist was celebrated every morning and the day ended with Evening prayer.  In the studio, we began each work session by sitting quietly with our icon in its various stages and allowing it to speak to us. At times it was quite intense. The icon worked on me as much as I worked on it. My first prayers were simply, “God, help!” Then gradually, I was able to let go of my own directives and began to trust the process itself.  As our instructor reminded us, there are no perfect icons but the work is all for the glory of God. Layer after layer, the image emerged and I was able to more deeply enter into the experience.

I discovered that painting icons is indeed prayer. It is a conversation with God. And as in all other forms of prayer, when we truly place ourselves before God, we are sometimes challenged and sometimes chastised but always, we are blessed. I give thanks for this opportunity to learn a new way to pray.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

This is the seventh installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.