“Not a Need of Yours Has Been Forgotten”: Catechesis and Calligraphy

“Not a Need of Yours Has Been Forgotten”: Catechesis and Calligraphy


Recently Jen Miller has been pondering prayer and calligraphy and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In Light to Our Prayer she writes:

The past few years I’ve used my calligraphy for my sons’ atrium. I’m creating something that will be used in the atrium, but it is prayer and meditation as I work. I am reminded of the contemplative prayer of the monks working on their manuscripts. My favorite is work on prayer cards, which are usually illuminated Bible verses. The text and length depends on the level of the child.

[. . .]

CGS encourages catechists to make as many materials as possible, but when time and talent are limited, it is fine to get help. Handmade materials, especially hand-lettered, inspire the children. They want to try to imitate the work, and taking time to do contemplative work is part of the work and prayer of the atrium. Printed materials are too perfect and not as easy to copy.

With this in mind, I do feel called to do more prayer cards. My plans this year are to open up an Etsy shop and sell a few calligraphy and other materials for the atrium and home, particularly the home prayer table. While “accessories” are not necessary for the home prayer table, they can be helpful.

I left a comment on the post:

Your idea for prayer cards is beautiful. And you inspire me. I’m not a calligrapher, but I do enjoy writing carefully and beautifully and illuminating what I write. Maybe I could do something in a smaller way. Making something beautiful and inspiring y children to do likewise. Today Bella’s math lesson included writing a cartoon and afterward she and Sophie made several more cartoons just for fun. I can see how something like this might take off with them.

Jen encouraged me saying,

Oh yes, Melanie! Definitely, especially since your children love this kind of thing. I used this same idea for our homeschool retreats in our local group. The children could try calligraphy, but just printing or cursive works, too. Watch the sales for scrapbook papers at the craft stores. I love the Rossi Florentine papers to decorate. Just gather up various papers and decorative items, prayer cards, etc., paste, different types of markers, etc. and let them at it.

I think this totally matches what you do at home with the Divine Office. Your children ponder different verses so this is just an extension of that.

How right she was. And it didn’t take long for the perfect moment of inspiration to strike.

Yesterday morning I was playing the Divine Office podcast Office of Readings and Bella latched on to one of the antiphons and came and repeated it to me: “The Lord your God is with you; not a need of yours has been forgotten.” She really, really liked it. I hadn’t noticed it at all, but I was in and out of the room with diapers and such while it was playing. So after I’d sat and prayed the office through myself, I picked up a pen and a piece of construction paper (it’s what I had available, I couldn’t find my nicer paper) and wrote out the antiphon in the pen I had on hand, a Pilot roller ball, which isn’t a great pen but will do in a pinch.

It’s kind of sloppy, I didn’t bother to rule the paper and so the lines are pretty uneven and the lettering could be better. But thinking about what Jen said, perhaps the unevenness and imperfections make it more accessible to my kids. Perhaps it will make it easier for them to emulate. And the kids were definitely intrigued, especially when I started decorating the letters. Sophie asked why I was writing fancy letters and Bella started a game where she could touch any letter that hadn’t been touched up but once they were “fancy” it was hands off.

I read through the antiphon with Bella and she recognized it as “her” antiphon and wondered why I was writing it. I told her I really liked it and just felt like writing it down to remember it better. Then we discussed illuminating the margins. I just said I was going to decorate it with flowers and such. Bella brought up the word “margin” and then Sophie asked what a margin was. And Bella drew a bird and a butterfly to get me started and I darkened the lines and smoothed them out a bit and then began to add flowers and vines and leaves and such. Bella says when it’s done she wants to hang it in her room.

As I drew the girls suggested other images to add: a chalice, a candle, a cross. It was fun to collaborate with them. And everyone was surprised to watch me make something beautiful.

This fits in perfectly with our current study on the Middle Ages and examination of medieval manuscripts. So we get art, history, reading, and faith formation all in one.I look forward to more illuminated verses after this.

Also, I’ve been finding lately that I’m at a loss when it comes to praying. If I listen to the podcasts I need something for my hands to do. I prefer to listen while I’m cooking or cleaning, to let my work and prayer intermingle. But many mornings that doesn’t work. I’m chatting with Dom while getting breakfast. And yet if I sit down without the podcast I’ve been falling asleep or having my mind wander clean off the page and find my time is up and I haven’t even made it through one psalm. Now I’m thinking what if I listened to the podcast while drawing illuminations on a verse I’d previously written out. I’ve always found that drawing helps me to focus. Some of my college notebooks were illuminated works of art. I even had a philosophy professor pull me aside once to express concern that I wasn’t paying attention in class. I told him that he should be worried when I wasn’t drawing, then my mind was more apt to be wandering off the lecture or discussion. So perhaps this will help to focus my prayer time and make it more productive in several senses.


(The color in the second photo is much truer to the shade of green of the original.)

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  • “Now I’m thinking what if I listened to the podcast while drawing illuminations on a verse I’d previously written out. I’ve always found that drawing helps me to focus”

    Sounds like a fun family prayer activity. Run off copies and let everyone illuminate while they listen, whether to a podcast or to some saint’s story.

  • Melanie, this is so beautiful!!! I’m not a big doodler, so illumination is harder for me. It looks like it just flows from your pen!

    That verse reminds of the phrase for the Good Shepherd. The atrium doesn’t change Scripture often, but they use this positive phrase: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need” so the child can understand. It’s some modern translation.

    • Thank you. I guess I’ve always been a doodler, but I had some friends along the way who encouraged me to take my doodles to the next level. Especially a good friend in high school who was focusing on graphic design and showed me some tricks to make simple doodles into design-quality images. And then I had a good friend in college who introduced me to making Celtic-style knot designs.

      I guess it shows how on target Montessori and CGS are about what appeals to children if Bella picks a verse which is so close to the Good Shepherd verse. I wouldn’t have noticed the similarity.

  • I’m posting here because it’s the best I can do. I noticed your most recent post on “Salt and Light” is closed to comments. Perhaps that was your intention and that’s your prerogative, although it’s not apparent to me why you would. But maybe you just forgot to turn on comments. If that’s the case, here’s a heads up.

    • Thanks for the heads up, Chris. I have no idea how the comments got closed, maybe I accidentally hit something? I can’t even see how to do that on the edit post page. Anyway, they are open now.

  • You drew that on a lark? Impressive!

    My husband’s colleges notebooks were also heavily illuminated. I’ve always admired the ability especially since my ability to draw seems limited to stick figures and smiley faces.