Holy Women Icons: Arts and Spirituality on Retreat by Angela Yarber

angelaI’ve noticed some growing trends in feminist spirituality. Recently, I’ve encountered several feminists who have attended virtual retreats from the comfort of their homes. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the number of clergy, scholars, and feminists who have begun coloring. Psychologists claim that coloring can soften stress, relieve anxiety, and be source of playful meditation for adults in an otherwise chaotic world. Similarly, doctors have long pointed to the emotional and physical importance of meditation, spirituality, or prayer in remaining balanced, relieving stress and anxiety. As feminists dwelling in a cisheteropatriarchal world, the need for such balance is even more important. It is these noticings that have led me to write this post.

A fabulous church that cares deeply about inclusion, social justice, and the arts is hosting an exhibition of my Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist for the month of October and throughout the month, I’m leading several retreats. While planning these retreats, I couldn’t help but think of the Feminism and Religion community. We are spread throughout the world, offering encouragement and challenge online every day. We have different struggles, spiritual paths, and backgrounds, but we gather on this blog to reconcile two seemingly paradoxical parts of our beings: feminism and religion. I have yet to develop these thoughts fully and I’d like to rely on you to share your input and ideas in the comments section about how we can “retreat” together virtually. With this in mind, I’d like share a bit about the Holy Women Icons Arts and Spirituality retreat I’m leading and invite you to participate at home. The entire retreat takes about 3 hours, or you can break it into 4 sections for shorter periods of time. So, if you’d like, play some music to set the mood, light a candle, and get out some paper, scissors, writing utensils, and crayons/markers, and let’s “retreat” together…

Part One: Tapping Your Creative Spirit

To start tapping into your creative spirit, you can create a “prayer doodle.” Place your pen on a sheet of paper and close your eyes. For several moments, simply let your pen roam free all over the paper. Swirling, zagging, circling, crossing. There is no right or wrong way to doodle! Once you’ve spent several moments doodling across the entire page, open your eyes. I imagine it looks a lot like life, faith, and feminism: messy, intersecting, beautiful. Now fill in the empty spaces with your hopes and prayers. You can use words, phrases, colors, images. Imagine that each empty space is a hope or prayer. Fill it. Below is an example of a prayer doodle on a large canvas done corporately when I led a retreat and had about 80 people fill in the spaces with the hopes and prayers of their community:

 prayer doodle

Part Two: Engaging in Sacred Conversation with a Work of Art

After reflecting on the experience of creating your own work of art, I invite you to encounter my Holy Women Icons as part of a spiritual exercise. Enter the “gallery” of Holy Women Icons, this great cloud of women witnesses that surround, inspire, and embolden us. Click and scroll down to encounter these myriad women. Which ones do you connect with? Which ones do you know? Which ones have you never heard of? Details of their stories can be found here or in my book, Holy Women Icons. After spending a little time with all these women, decide on one to engage in sacred conversation. Click on her image and enlarge it on your screen. Use the prompts below to guide your conversation, as though the Holy Woman Icon is asking you these questions:

Why did you choose to have a conversation with me?

How are we similar?

How are we different?

What can I teach you about life and spirituality?

What can you teach me about life and spirituality?

Part Three: Coloring the Sacred

After engaging in sacred conversation with a work of art, it’s now to time do some creating yourself! Below are two samples from my forthcoming Holy Women Icons Coloring Book: Guadalupe and Guanyin. You can download and print them to color as a spiritual practice. If you’d like, you can engage in sacred conversation as you color, as well.

                   image004         image006

Part Four: Imaging Yourself as a Holy Woman Icon

Finally, after tapping into your creative spirit with a prayer doodle, engaging in sacred conversation with a Holy Woman Icon, and coloring, you are now invited to consider that you, too, are a Holy Woman Icon. You’ll notice that there are words—the cries of each woman’s heart—written on the hearts of every Holy Woman Icon. I invite you to consider what the cry of your heart is. On a sheet of paper, jot down words and phrases that are most meaningful to you. What is the essence of who you are and what you want to be? What is your deepest prayer and desire? What are you most passionate about? What virtues describe you? After writing these down randomly, begin to make connections. Whittle the words. Narrow. Focus. Delve deeper. Write down the cry of your heart. Once it’s written, fold a sheet of paper (preferably red!) in half and cut it in the shape of half a heart. Open it to reveal your heart. Write the words on it. If it would be empowering for you, tape the heart to your chest and look at yourself in the mirror. You are a holy woman icon! Or if you prefer, hang it somewhere you can see it regularly, as a reminder of the holiness dwelling within.

Holy ones, beloved and affirmed, go in peace to make the world a more beautiful place. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber has a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley and is author of Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship, Dance in Scripture: How Biblical Dancers can Revolutionize Worship Today, Holy Women Icons, and Tearing Open the Heavens: Selected Sermons from Year B. She has been a clergywoman and professional dancer and artist since 1999. For more on her research, ministry, dance, or to purchase one of her icons, visit: www.angelayarber.com


5 thoughts on “Holy Women Icons: Arts and Spirituality on Retreat by Angela Yarber”

  1. Today I will prepare – do chores that must be done, buy the biggest box of crayons I can find, and open the box of paint and paper I have in the closet. And tomorrow, I shall spend the day having fun!

    Thank you Angela.


  2. I love this post! I’ve been “doodling” for more than 20 years, and still do today. It’s gratifying to know that psychologists et al are now declaring it a great way to relieve stress. I knew that instinctively long ago, when I worked at a high stress job that required me to repeat on the phone the same basic info over and over and over. I would sit there and doodle on my little yellow sticky pads, and it kept me calm enough to do my job. Later, I started doodling on larger pieces of paper, for my own peace and pleasure. I’ve even doodled on Paint Pad on my computer. Now I call my method of doodling: ZenDoodle! Thank you for the awesome post!


  3. I love this post! One of the difficulties of online communities is the challenge of how to have the shared experiences that create a sense of unified history and bondedness. What a creative way to overcome this problem! I will definitely get out my art supplies and do your retreat this weekend. I hope we have some further posts from across the FAR community of how to have a variety of “virtual retreats.” Thanks so much for sharing this!


  4. Oh Angela this was way cool! I’ve agreed to do a workshop on the Divine Feminine at my denomination’s state conference next week. This is definitely outside my comfort zone but I agreed to do it because I felt called to, and as I’ve been preparing I’ve found myself overcome by joy and I realize that I’m really looking forward to sharing my knowledge and journey with others. Your retreat has helped me confirm that and it has been fun! I can’t wait to buy your Holy Women Icons coloring book!


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