Our Woman of the Week is Jennifer Anna Rich, nominated for her work producing beautiful prayer cards, and her labors in prayer, pilgrimage, and stillness undergirded by a masters degree in theology. (Jennifer’s system of capitalization and punctuation is so much a part of the way she writes that we’re not messing with it!) You see her here operating the letterpress in her studio–and a prayer card that she designed and printed on that letterpress. We asked her to tell you how she found her approach to prayer:
“for three decades i have led a FAR TOO BUSY LIFE, while yearning for inner stillness in prayer. running our business, family and small farm, with my husband (the operative word here is 'running') … i have been grabbing additional projects off the proverbial grocery store shelf as i fly past to the next 'to do' item each day. like many of you, i never seemed to get to the end of the list. in our 33-year entrepreneurial endeavor, oblation papers & press, we have worked with a creative staff to make paper by hand, design and print cards and invitations by antique letterpress, and sell papers and pens from around the world in our portland, oregon stationery store. in my own letterpress studio, poustinia press, i make parchment from our sheepskins to bind orthodox prayer books and print prayer cards, offered in my etsy store, 'prayer spa'.
“while this busy lifestyle has kept me running, a strong desire to live a life of STILLNESS in prayer has continually been with me. aside from my annual monastery prayer and journaling retreat (which i love), i have had to battle against my own busy-ness to carve out precious time to be with God. a few years ago our sweet daughters and their horses were moving on to next steps, and i began to gather some thoughts from the quieter side of our faith tradition to try to help women love their prayer lives more. these thoughts became a small book, designed to NOURISH THE MIND, BODY AND SOUL, called 'prayer spa: ancient treatments for the modern soul'.
“as i continued to try to listen to what God was placing before me, a prayer spa pilgrimage to greece emerged, and after dancing around covid for a couple years, it materialized this past september, and i was finally able to lead our small group of pilgrims on a prayerful adventure. we experienced greek culture, healing minerals from the sea, monasteries and HOLY PLACES along the way. i focused our morning gatherings on prayers of inner stillness, while frederica mathewes-green (such an honor and joy to travel with her!) gave soulful talks in the afternoons, and helen stinman led artful watercolor journaling sessions.
“now that i am approaching 60, for the first time i am shedding the multitude of jobs i might do in a day, and carving out time to actually be still and LISTEN TO THE WORDLESS VOICE OF GOD WITHIN MY HEART a little more. i have gleaned this way of approaching prayer and life from our dear metropolitan kallistos (ware), among other hesychast fathers. in 2018 i had the great privilege of spending several days with metropolitan kallistos at a prayer conference in england, followed by a period of guidance through email correspondence. this past september, i went to a theological conference at the institute of orthodox christian studies (iocs) in cambridge, england in hopes of meeting with him at his earlier invitation, but alas, he reposed just weeks before i arrived. yet much to my joy, in the distance-learning iocs prayer course that followed, metropolitan kallistos has appeared as one of my professors, through the miracle of pre-recorded videos. i highly recommend his youtube videos and many books on the subject of the Jesus Prayer and the writings of the Philokalia, especially his slim volume, 'Power of the Name,' available online.
“immersing myself in his talks and writings over the past 10 years in particular, i have begun to explore this way of non-discursive prayer of stillness, based in the Philokalia (which he also edited). there are simple techniques which the writers of the Philokalia, such as saint gregory palamas, confirmed are for laypeople and beginners. these often use the Jesus Prayer to call upon God, to FEEL HIS PRESENCE, to speak to Him with love. it is a way of going into your 'secret dwelling place' (matthew 6:6) and of being with God, as His beloved daughter. this is a deep treasure of our faith, available to every person who seeks it, and a humble beginning to glimpse the possibility of ceaseless prayer.”
Jennifer Anna Rich is our Woman of the Week, nominated for the work in producing cards and books to help people pray. (See note on capitalization and punctuation in earlier post.) You see her here in August at a Salem, Oregon, state fair author’s table; in October 2019 dehairing a sheepskin on a fleshing beam on her small farm near Portland, Oregon, as part of making parchment; and with (l to r) Helen Stiman, Sarah Steiger, and Frederica Mathewes-Green at the Monastery of Saints David and Iakovos, Evia, Greece, in September, as as part of the Prayer Spa pilgrimage. We asked her to tell you the obstacles she has found that keep people from praying:
“in my quest to help women truly yearn to be with God in prayer, I was recently asked, 'what prevents women from loving their prayer life?' while women often feel that they just don't have enough minutes in the day, making a strong effort to set aside even a very few of those minutes every day can bring real benefits to those who prioritize being with God. often, as we care for our families and our communities, we place ourselves last on the list. we nurture our children but forget that WE ARE ALSO CHILDREN OF GOD, BELOVED.
“The Jesus Prayer can be a way forward in situations when too many words at the prayer corner can seem meaningless, or when fear of world events may threaten our peace. metropolitan kallistos recommends that praying the Jesus Prayer can be 'joyful rather than penitential, world-affirming rather than world-denying.' he says, 'by standing in Christ's presence even for no more than a few moments of each day, invoking his Name, we deepen and transform all the remaining moments of the day, rendering ourselves available to others, effective and creative, in a way that we could not otherwise be. and if we also use the Prayer in a 'free' manner throughout the day, this enables us to 'set the divine seal on the world'. (Power of the Name, p. 32) sometimes fewer words are better than many. sometimes you just have to make the small sacrifice to get out of bed 10 minutes earlier every day, and SHOW UP, if even to light a candle, say the Jesus Prayer three times, then blow it out! in the prayer tradition of the hesychast fathers, fewer words are better than many. in just a few weeks this intentional practice will form a habit, making the arriving easier, and giving you a firm foundation upon which to build a rich life of prayer. whatever your prayers may entail, try to speak the words to God with love, as metropolitan kallistos teaches.
“another underlying challenge to our prayer life may be that in our friendships with other women, we rarely speak about our personal prayer lives, leaving little space for our social community to offer encouragement or accountability. other people can see at a glance if our houses are clean, if our children are getting taller, or if our socks match the outfit we're wearing, but no one has a chance to weigh in on whether our personal prayer lives are growing or shrinking. while our time alone with God can become an intimate relationship, some women may find this 'secret place' of prayer is a lonely place that nobody else knows or cares about, without social rewards. at the same time, THE MANY WORDS WE SPEAK THERE DON'T ALWAYS REACH OUR OWN HEARTS.
“often i feel that life is based on a continuum, including our beautiful orthodox faith. from the deeply ascetic and sometimes compartmentalized or uncompromising way of approaching God, to the softer, more forgiving, perhaps more motherly way, there are so many paths to find a deepening prayer life in God. scripture has a wide range of approaches, and while the shields, helmets and swords of ephesians 6 may resonate with some, the maternal side of God can be found in places like matthew 23, 'how often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!' just as we mothers and aunties hope for the kind of loving relationship where our children want to be with us, not out of duty but out of love, it is easy to believe that God, our heavenly parent, desires the same thing of us.
"self-talk can also be a decisive factor in our desire to pray. for years, my grandmother used to firmly tell herself, 'i do not like chocolate, but i love apples!' and this made a real change in the way she approached treats and nutrition. i have used this technique to steer myself toward my prayer corner, giving myself a sensory treat, like a warm cup of tea, while saying, I LOVE GOING TO PRAY… and it has helped me to form the habit of looking forward to my morning prayers. metropolitan anthony (bloom) instructs us to use positive self-talk in our preparation for prayer. toward the end of his book, 'beginning to pray', he asks us to set a timer for 3 minutes, say to ourselves, 'i am in God's presence. what a joy! let us be still.' then simply say to God, 'HERE I AM', and practice just 'being' with God. this is a non-discursive way of prayer that reminds me of cozying up on the couch with my own daughters. no words needed, just wrapping ourselves in love. so let us remember that although we may have certain roles in our lives to care for others, we, ourselves, are beloved children of God, who can approach Him in stillness and love.”
As always, we asked our Woman of the Week, Jennifer Anna Rich, about her morning routine. (See note on capitalization and punctuation in earlier post.) She is also giving you a look at her prayer corner, along with a peek inside one of her hand-bound, hand-printed prayer books:
“over the past few years i have come to LOVE my morning routine. normally i wake up at 7 and mingle with my husband and pup, ruby, in the kitchen while pouring myself a healing cup of green tea. we step outside to take a breath of fresh air, then each go to our own spaces to pray, read holy writings, and be still for one whole, luxurious hour (well, ruby, sadly, doesn't know how to read…) as i approach my prayer corner i tell myself what a treat this is. i light the candles, place a sweet B12 vitamin to melt under my tongue for brain power, rub a little essential oil of myrrh on my fingertips, listen to my own voice in prayer, and gaze at the beauty of my icon stand for a moment, to HONOR THE FIVE SENSES GOD HAS GIVEN ME. then i close my eyes to BE with God.
“instead of rattling off words that don't penetrate my heart, my prayers have mostly become those of 'listening', 'inner stillness', and 'being with God' with an additional focus on the Holy Spirit, whom i love. for me, the important thing is not the amount of time, but the setting aside of that time to be with God. if occasionally i only have 10 minutes one day, i try to fully engage for those 10 minutes, being authentically with God without rushing through too many prayers.
“in the spirit of engaging my mind, body and soul toward the service of God, i have curated a set of 'morning prayers of stillness', as a letterpress printed prayer card to keep at my prayer stand with the others. it is a combination of phrases to prepare the heart, along with prayers by holy mothers and fathers, prostrations, listening prayer, and praying the Hours. i try to memorize this prayer rule, along with certain scriptures to honor the mind God has given me (but sometimes i have to peek!) it goes like this:
MORNING PRAYERS OF STILLNESS
in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen."
to Whom am i speaking?
1st hour: psalm 5
Christ, the true light of the world
"my voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord"
prayer for the beginning of the day by saint philaret of moscow
i am in God's presence.
what a joy!
let us be still.
"here i am"
(metropolitan anthony bloom)
set timer for 3-5 minutes
kyrie eleison (sing 3x)
personal spoken prayers
"God grant me:
awareness of the presence of God in every moment
attentiveness to my thoughts
acquisition of the Holy Spirit
alignment of body and soul
abiding in Christ"
prayer is intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible
(saint gregory of nyssa)
the Jesus Prayer
descend your mind into your heart
(saint theophan the recluse)
"Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, O Treasury of every Good and Bestower of Life: come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One."
3rd Hour: psalm 50
descent of the Holy Spirit
create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me
taste the sweetness of the Name of God
Holy Spirit, dwell in me
Holy Spirit, dwell in me
Holy Spirit, dwell in me"
"through the prayers of our holy mothers and fathers,
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us, amen.
“if axia readers would like to receive a complementary mini letterpress prayer card reading: 'YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD, BELOVED', you may request this at jenniferannarich.com. i would be delighted to send you one!”
Thank you, Jennifer!
(Jennifer also wants you to know that the "small gate" hanging next to her prayer stand is by metalwork artist Heidi Petersen.)