Try this creative project to tap your teens' artistic gifts while encouraging a new approach to prayer.
Prayer flags date back to the ancient Buddhist tradition of writing sutras on banners or cloths that were then taken to be shared with foreign lands. As the tradition developed, it became common to hang a series of prayer flags outside temples or monasteries with each color symbolizing some natural element:
- Red (fire)
- White (air/wind)
- Green (water)
- Yellow (earth)
- Blue (sky/space)
These flags were intended to be public symbols of prayers for peace, compassion, and goodwill, to inspire any who might see them. Today, prayer flags have been incorporated by a wide variety of faiths including Christianity.
To create prayer flags with your group: Try the process called “faux batik.” In real batik, artists create images on cloth using melted wax and dyes, but that method takes time to learn and can be a slow process. You can achieve a very similar and striking effect using a liquid mixture of flour, alum, and water, to “draw” a design onto muslin. The recipe for the mixture is as follows:
- Mix in a bowl or blender 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons alum (available in spice section at any grocery store)
- 1/2 cup flour
- Mix thoroughly to remove any lumps
- Pour contents into a plastic squeeze bottle (such as a traditional plastic ketchup bottle you might find in a restaurant, easily available at Wal-Mart). It's helpful to have one bottle of mixture for each participant.
Lay out newspaper on your workspace and provide each participant with a square of cloth, which can usually be purchased pre-cut and prepackaged at hobby stores. Invite youth to consider:
- What images or designs might you include in your prayer flag?
- What message of prayer do you want to send out into the world?
- What colors might represent the prayers you feel called to express at this time in your life?
- What message or values might you want to express in a prayer flag to inspire or challenge others?
Their finished designs might be quite literal (images of the world, people, the cross) or more abstract, evoking a feeling or mood. Youth "draw" their designs by squeezing the alum mixture onto the cloth in thick lines. You may want to use hair dryers to help speed up the drying process of the flour mixture after their drawing is complete. Once dry, invite youth to add paint to their flag (using acrylic paint, preferrably), completely coloring the areas not covered by the alum mixture. The richer and deeper the colors, the better the finished look. The alum mixture will resist the paint, leaving those areas the color of the cloth in the finished design.
Once the paint has had some time to dry: Thoroughly rinse the cloth in a sink, removing the alum substance and the excess paint. Stretch a clothesline in the room and hang the flags to dry. Challenge your group to consider where you will hang your creations so that they might be an inspiration to others during the Lenten season and beyond. --Brian
See more Lent ideas: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7.