Pysanky Writer: Karen Hanlon
Blog Post #18
Writing Prayer: Interview Series
Pysanky writer, Karen Hanlon, shares her faith-filled passion for pysanky.
“The end result is more than just a decorated egg. It’s prayer itself.”
Twenty-eight years ago, on a typical Sunday during Lent, something remarkable happened to Karen Hanlon. Under the guidance of a Ukrainian friend, Karen wrote her first pysanka and an artistry that she didn’t even know she had blossomed forth. “The very first egg I did felt amazing and I knew this was something I could do. It just came so naturally to me. I fell in love with it – the symbols, the symmetry, the beauty – right from the beginning!”
Karen, a Catholic of Irish descent, feels a deep affinity with the Ukraine, with its people and culture so centered on faith. “When you write a pysanka, it says something. It’s not painted or dyed or decorated. It has meaning to it. It’s written – like a story, like an icon.”
“I pray before I start a pysanka, and offer all the time I am working on it as a prayer for the recipient of the egg. If I don’t know who that will be, or if I want to keep the egg myself, I will pray for some special intention while offering it all to the Lord. The whole process is a prayer.”
Karen spent years refining her skills writing pysanky during Lent, sometimes with her children, seeking inspiration from various sources including the Ukrainian Gift Shop in Minneapolis. She found that she was instinctively drawn to symbols that resonated with her strong faith. “The ancient meanings of the symbols has changed to reflect Ukraine’s Christianity. The eight-pointed Star that once symbolized the sun now symbolizes God, the Light of the World. I just love the Christian symbolism. I write the Star-symbol on the majority of my eggs. God is central to pysanky, and to all that I do in life.”
The personal nature of prayer writing, and one’s heartfelt concept of God, is exemplified by Karen in her choice of symbols and meanings. “Flowers signify Resurrection and Joy. I like to write the three-petal trillium (Ontario’s official flower) inside a Triangle, as both are Trinitarian, while asking the Lord to bless where I live. Circles and Circular Bands, written around the egg, represent Eternity. On Palm Sunday, Ukrainians use Pussy Willow branches instead of palm fronds to celebrate the joyous arrival of Jesus Christ. The bountiful symbol of Wheat is special in that it signifies Communion.”
Karen’s attendance at the 5-day PysankyUSA retreat over the last 8 years has provided her with many blessing. “I am very grateful for all the people I met through this experience – and my online pysanky groups. We have all become good friends, even socializing with yearly play-dates in different cities.” Karen now teaches classes at the retreat and finds much fulfillment in doing so. She loves the whole process of writing pysanky but is especially fond of waxing because the scent of the melting beeswax and the quiet concentration are very soothing. Not surprising, Karen likes the challenge of writing straight lines on the egg’s curved surface, which she characterizes as “interesting and enjoyable.”
In mid-July, Karen will be demonstrating her pysanky writing proficiency during Ontario’s 2019 Madawaska Valley Studio Tour. The joy she exhibits writing pysanky just may be contagious!
She can also be found at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College where she interacts on a daily basis with students in her role as a tutor, helping them to improve their writing skills. No matter – essays or eggs – Karen Hanlon’s passion for the prayerful act of writing pysanky transforms all that she does into the heartfelt blessing of God-centered love!
“When you give someone a pysanka that you have written while praying for this person, you are giving them a beautiful object – you are giving them the gift of prayer.”
– Karen Hanlon, pysanky prayer writer since 1991
Copyright © 2019 Nancy Kopack.
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