Prayer Flags in Enchanted Forest

Submitted by Judy Sirota Rosenthal

10+

Client: Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Congregation kol Ami

Location: White Plains, NY, United States

Completion date: 2020

Artwork budget: $4,500

Project Team

Artist

Judy Sirota Rosenthal

Judy Sirota Rosenthal

Originator of Idea

Rabbi Shira Milgrom

Congregation Kol Ami

Installation and flag contributor

Judi Brown

member of Kol Ami

Installation and flag contributor

Gail Young

member of Kol Ami

Overview

The forest is praying – across time and cultures, cloth has been used as a visual signal. Flags, banners, ribbons have myriad meanings – wordless/worded symbols reflecting belief, posture, or message.  Prayer Flags are a bridge, a connection, an offering to Mystery that is greater than we are.

The commission: to create a prayer flag installation with a pandemically distanced community to bring them together in another form. We zoomed, taught the ancient concept and practice of prayer flags, provided the community with hand dye-painted blanks, and they responded by adding their prayers.

The site is a forest (roughly 2 acres), surrounding a chapel at the back of the synagogue property, where a short nature walk exists. I have returned in each season to photograph the flags as they transform.

By arranging the individually created flags in coherent lines, it feel that the woods are praying. The flags depend upon the forces of nature: air and wind to carry their messages skyward; weather and time for transformation. Their dance in the wind and stillness in the calm is evocative for all of the animal kingdom – human and other creatures. Prayer flags illustrate the impermanence of all life.

Legend says each thread that falls from a prayer flag is a prayer that is answered.

Goals

To bring a community together during the pandemic for High Holy Days, 2020, by the creation of an interactive project, accessible to and inclusive of people of all ages, using simple media.

I first saw the forest site mid-summer, when it was green and filled with poison ivy, which needed removal and observation. I noted trees that created an embrace along the path, as well as trees that were at angles or that could create close up and distanced views, destinations for visitors.
It was important to have the flags both readable and rhythmic ( 2 or 3 lines above each other) that would afford relationship to the sky.

Using natural muslin cloth, painted with non-toxic dyes; flags were sent to congregants for completion. Using jute twine, cotton and wool threads, the flags were tied lines, in a seemingly random arrangement; some lines required making one’s own path to view.

The lines vary in length and placement, some solitary, others layered above one another, creating conversations amongst them. The integration of flags on lines strung between live trees transforms space to have palpable Presence.

Process

Hand paint-dyed muslin, ripped into rectangles, cut into triangles: over 700 flags which were included a packet with instructions, the history of prayer flags, blanks for prayer journals, and information on permanent non-toxic media for creating personal layers of drawings, prayers, or wishes, by members of the congregation. I facilitated a zoom class, including a movement exercise, showing images of the cross-cultural nature of messages flying in the wind. Included were quotations from David Bohm, Einstein, Heschel, Native American Elders, and Mary Oliver on wonder, awe, and the interconnectedness of all beings, as awe and humility are two of the emotions evoked..

I arranged the disparate individual flags in lines tied to live trees that could be read, with themes evoked by color, content, rhythm, and shape, without becoming a run-on sentence. The ends of the lines, read either way, became an exhale. I was invited to include some of my own flags: colors or symbols that transform, evoking varieties of prayer - contemplative to rageful, for lines of greater coherence. The arrangement of flags and lines were thoughtful and organic.

Congregation members and maintenance crew, installed the flags with me over a three day period.

The forest is praying - across time and

Additional Information

I have photographed the installation from its inception: making flags, the forest before, installation in October, December snow, April rain, witnessing the flags transform over time, the impermanence of all life. The flags made by teens varied from sadness, concern about grandparents, Black Lives Matter, Covid, to wanting a new phone, to cheering sports teams. From a younger child: protection of the trees. From adults: I explained on zoom the precariousness of the Beech leaf disease spreading in Westchester : two people drew beech tree leaves, one of them was intuitively attached to a beech tree. Flags contain Buddhist thoughts, Jewish wisdom, personal wisdom and prayers, activist and Jewish values, a flag for RBG. From one person who installed: “ For me, so much magic in the "doing": the rhythm of my stitches, purple fringes on flags dancing in the breeze, an occasional leaf falling on my head, a growing chain of prayers and praises floating/flowing through the woods connecting our community. From a visitor: “ I am walking in an enchanted forest” From another who helped: “so many inspiring, beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful prayers floating on the wind.”  This humble form gave opportunity to create with hands heart and sprit.