• Kaisa

Turtle Embroidery as a Contemplative Prayer Practice


Turtle has become a symbol, metaphor, and a reminder of, and in a playful way "a companion" to me in the contemplative life. By 'contemplative' I mean a thoughtful, attentive presence, and careful listening to self, God, and others.


More than once, I have meditated turtles' characteristics and unhurried ways.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Is it time to stop trooping forward, and withdraw inside the shield for some solitude and stillness?"And other times I examine, "Am I hiding in the comfort of my shield, refusing to show up to others, and face up to the realities of my life?"


I made a simple cross-shielded turtle embroidery work. It is an image of Christ's cross as my shield of protection, in which my identity is safe and hidden, rather than in my own ego or defenses. From that safe place I can move in the world slowly with confidence and purpose.


If you want to experience what it is like for you to slow down, a simple needlework can be a great tool for this. It is a tangible way to explore and meditate on unhurried, contemplative life (also with young people, or others who might be new to it). You might find that the act of working with the needle and thread in itself leads you into listening-prayer, where you start hearing God's unforced, loving whispers to you.


Not everything needs to be productive, and not all things need to be finished as soon as possible. Let's linger for a while.

Materials:

Embroidery floss, needle, fabric, embroidery hoop, scissors, and pencil.

I used three simple stitches in this work:

1. Backstitch. The backstitch creates a solid line and is good for hand embroidering text or

outlining a design. (Outlines of the limbs and shield.)

2. Chain stitch. It makes for a great outline stitch as well as a frame for a pattern or design.(The outer circle of the shield, inside two backstitch circles.)

3. Satin stitch. A good filler stitch that creates a smooth appearance. (Filling of the limbs, tail and head.)


Step-by-step work process in images:

1. Draw a light outline of the pattern on the fabric with a pencil. Create the outline with a backstitch.

2. Make a pattern in between the two outer lines using a chainstitch.

3. Fill in the limbs and head with a satin stitch.


Reflection questions:

  • Is there an image, element, object, or something found in the nature that has become, or could become, a reminder for you to slow down, and become more attentive to God's gentle voice within?

  • Does it sound invitational to you to create an art piece for your image? (This could be an embroidery, painting, clay sculpture, or a hundred other things!)

  • How does having something to touch, smell, look at or listen to affect your personal worship time?

  • What role do images, playfulness and imagination have in your spirituality?


P.S. If you enjoy praying with your hands check out our book-making project and subscribe to our newsletter on the top of the page to get your free Praying Hands Discovery Pack!


Resources:

Whole-Person Prayer (Kutsu Companions Pinterest board)

Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas

The Creative Family Manifesto, Amanda Blake Soule

Slow Down, World by Thames & Hudson (Picture Book)

Old Turtle by Dounglas Wood (Picture Book)

Contact

Kaisa Stenberg-Lee

Denver, CO

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 Spiritual Director's Association).