Fruits of the Spirit in a Time of Pandemic

Altar parament detail, silk dye on silk, metalic resist, ©Kristen Gilje

Rev. 22 vs 1-2 The angel also showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city’s street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.

In turbulent times such as ours, with pandemic conditions, political divide, social unrest and unexpected devastating storms, it is easy for me to fall into despair. But I am finding that when I truly quiet myself especially in prayer and also when I make art I find an enduring optimism that refuses to be extinguished, despite it all.  I’ve examined this positivity for “Pollyanna-ism,” a form of denying reality. I have come to believe that this deep optimism is instead a seed of undying hope planted by the Holy Spirit. It is a hope in the healing force of our God, a promise of resurrection, and a springtime of greening and growth when I feel like I’m in a dry desert. 

I’ve found company in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess of the 12th century. She coined the word “viriditas” to mean the greening force of the Holy Spirit. Hildegard says that the “Holy Spirit is greening power in motion, making all things grow, expand, celebrate.” And that salvation or healing is the “returning of the greening power and moistness.”

We see this greening force in nature all around us. After every winter there is a spring. After every forest fire there is a resurrection of ferns and fireweed and aspen, leading the way for the larger forest to recover. If the Holy Spirit is in, with, and through us, present even in the tiniest leaf (Martin Luther) then no wonder I cannot extinguish this force deep within me that plants the promise of growth and abundance and fullness of life. 

During this long season of Pentecost we use the color green in our worship space to reflect this long season of growth. In nature through the growing season we see an abundance of different greens; from springtime yellow greens, to vibrant true greens and deeper blue greens of summer trees, to greens tinged with golds, reds, oranges and browns of the harvest season. I have tried to include many of these variations in the Green Season paraments to reflect these color changes. Just as these greens change through the season, so does the season of our own healing. 

The photo to the left is a decorative parament 14 feet tall by 28 inches wide, silk dye on silk, depicting a fruitful tree of life “nurished by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God.” This is what the tenacious positivity feels like inside of me.

Above: “Iowa Tree of Life”, silk dye on silk, 14′ x 28″, ©Kristen Gilje

“Iowa Tree of Life,” silk dye on silk, 14 feet by 28 inches, hung horizontally on my deck to get its picture taken.


These pieces were commissioned by First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Each of the three paraments (a decorative niche parament, an altar parament and an ambo parament) have ripe fruit in them and a reference to water as a symbol for the verdant nurturing power of the Holy Spirit.  In the tall niche parament the tree of life has grown ripe fruit because it is nurtured by the crystal waters of the river of life, flowing from the throne of God. The altar parament depicts golden wheat and purple grapes, expanded and ripened by the “greening power of the Holy Spirit in motion,” for making the bread of wine of our communion.  Behind these altar fruits the water of life can be seen gathered as a still deep pond, a place at which to rest.

Altar parament, “Holy Sustainance” silk dye on silk, 30″x65″,© Kristen Gilje

In the Ambo piece below there is evidence of the moist nurturance of the Holy Spirit in the various ripe fruits growing from the same vine. This is a celebration of the complex and varied fruits of Christ the Vine, who is active today in our lives. May we all be nurtured by the Spirit to produce good fruit for the health of our families, for life of our communities, and for the healing of our world. 

Ambo parament “One Vine, Many Fruits” silk dye on silk 36″x36″, ©Kristen Gilje

St. Francis Stole

St. Francis Stole 2

Commissioned to celebrate her 25th Ordination Anniversary, Pastor Mary’s husband ordered a stole to be designed and made incorporating the Prayer of St. Francis, one of  Mary’s favorite prayers. The prayer is wound through the design in gold, amongst a visual celebration of animals, insects and plants, and of course St. Francis. This design has turned out to be one of my favorites.

And since my commission schedule was full, we first sent her a framed sketch of the stole to come:

St. Francis Stole design sketch, colored pencil on paper

Books that influence my work



I had fun using the book cover graphics as guides to record some of my favorite theological explorations over the past several years onto a silk scarf. 

Whole scarf

By no means an exclusive list, they include

Mystical-HopeThe Unbearable Wholeness of Being, Ilia Delio; Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault;  The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr;  

Teilhard to OmegaThe Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, Cynthia Bourgeault; Super, Natural Christians, Sallie McFague, From Teinhard to Omega, ed. Ilia Delio;

Making all things new

The Divine Milieu, and Hymn of the Universe, both by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Making All Things New, Ilio Delia. 

Some of these books I’ve read and re-read, underlined, defaced with comments and notes, and tabbed. Others have influenced me by osmosis: being around people who immersed themselves and consequently me in these authors’ thoughts. The latter include Sally McFague and Cynthia Bourgeault, whose books are on my reading list. 

Sunburst for Easter

Just finished: an altar parament to add to the Easter Glory banners for Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Kennewick WA. I expanded and modified the medallion imagery in the Easter Glory banners (see previous post!) to make a sunburst. Yes, it could also be a flower! My intention is to  capture the sacred, hope-filled and life-giving nature of both flower and sun. Silk dye on silk, 33″x22.5″, part of “Easter Glory” collection. 










Easter Glory

Two new Easter silk paintings for Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick WA! 

They are each 58″ x 32″ , silk dye on silk, Â©Kristen Gilje 2018



“All Creation Sings”, Finished!

I so enjoyed painting this set of banners for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN.

Birch Forest Fox horiz

The goal of these banners is to lift up the natural habitat near this St. Paul suburb as God’s sacred creation. In order to do this I had to remember back to my childhood and early adulthood roaming the beautiful hardwood forests in eastern Iowa and the more northern birch forests of Minnesota. I am sure my first experiences of the sacred occurred from early childhood forrays into Grandma and Grandpa’s woods near Decorah, IA.,  later as a teen and young adult  canoing in the Boundary Waters of northern MN, and then during collage years taking refuge from aceademia in the Nerstrand Woods near Northfield MN, a last remnant of the historic Big Woods of Wisconson and SE Minnesota.

All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Oak
“All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Oak Forest,” silk dye on silk, 12 feet by 54 inches.

All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Birch
“All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Birch Forest,” silk dye on silk, 12 feet by 55 inches.


As a full-fledged adult living rurally in North Idaho and remotely in the North Cascades Wilderness at Holden village, and still today near Bellingham WA I search for peace, for life lessons, for beauty and awe-inspiring power and inevitable change of everything, even rock. I search for that which is greater than me in the forests. If I’m really lucky, very still, or completely dumbstruck by what I  experience in the wild, once in a while I can sense the God of Martin Luther, in, with, and through all things.


All Creation Sings


If I am very, very lucky, God’s  creation is a door that leads me to Tielhard De Chardin’s Sacred Millieu, where the veil thins and I glimps the sacred.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

From St. Patrick’s Breastplate








Breaking Wave as Baptismal Image

Commission for a Seaside Church

©2014 Kristen Gilje Breaking Wave
©2014 Kristen Gilje Breaking Wave, 8 feet by 55 inches, silk dye on silk.

I painted this 8 foot by 54 inch banner, for a church in Manasquan NJ,  immediately after finishing “Zion’s Waterfall.” I had enjoyed being very loose with the dyes, letting them mix and make textures without much control at all, using hardly any resist. In “Breaking Wave” I wanted to preserve the free and uncontrolled feeling with a different technique: painting with wax. This involved using the resist, which usually I use to control the dye, in a free and easy way. I bought 5 different sizes and shapes of brushes to make varying textures and painterly wax marks on the silk.

The process was similar to making a layered print. The very first wax marks preserved the white of the silk, only where I wanted highlights. Next I put a light layer of blues over the whole piece. After that dried, I put another layer of wax only where I wanted this light blue preserved….then a darker blue, and more wax, until I had all the color values I wanted on the finished piece, from lightest to darkest.

The original idea for this piece came from the pastor who commissioned it. Her congregation had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and her idea was to  make a Hurricane Sandy Baptismal Banner. The idea was an intriguing challenge. I love to connect natural images with sacred rite and ritual. After researching photos of the devastation on the web, I came up with the following image. However, I could not find any hope in the subject at all, no sense of the holy.

©2014 Kristen GiljeHurricane Sandy
©2014 Kristen Gilje Sketch for Hurricane Sandy Baptismal Banner

Even though this piece was more about the destructive forces of nature than the transforming sacred power of baptism, the commissioning pastor liked it.  I also had gotten quite attached to the idea of making this piece, not because it represented baptism, but instead the awesome and fierce power of nature, and the challenge of making it. NOT the intended goal…

The idea was to somehow lift the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy into the hands of God, recognizing the sacred water of baptism even in the terrifying walls of water in the storm. This was definitely too fresh a catastrophe for the idea to work. And the image represents “My God, why have you forsaken us?” better than baptism.  We realized that this image was not what her people needed, and changed course.

 Challenging art needs to be appropriate for the congregation it serves, and needs especially a person to facilitate discussion around the art, to lead people into challenging ideas with purpose. The purpose is not the art, but the idea.  And the idea must be carefully chosen. The art is a tool for thinking about the challenging idea.

The pastor knows their congregation and what they need the most, and how great or small a challenge they need, and most importantly what they need challenging on.

 We turned instead to an image more familiar and less challenging but still powerful: A wave breaking over rocks. I could indeed find the Holy here in the awesome power of water to transform even a rock, but also to nurture life and bring joy. It is a good image of the transforming power of baptism.

Here are pictures of my own exploration of a wave….first on newsprint 9 feet by 55 inches just learning shapes and values.

2014 Kristen Gilje

next a “map” simplified version, Still got carried away by the detail. I put this one under the silk to help me place the dye and wax.

2014 Kristen Gilje

This wax process was new for me…it was fun to have the WAX make the mark, rather than the dye.

My driving emotion for this piece is awe of the sacred in nature, despair in its failure, and hope/faith for change.This is now in a New Jersey church, as a symbol of the transformative power of the waters of baptism.



Zion’s Waterfall Up and Hanging

At Zion’s River , Tacoma, WA

This large 3-panel banner which I call a silk mural, was hung this winter, and really makes a presence as you walk into the sanctuary. It is 36 feet long and 8 feet wide. My task was to design “an abstract waterfall”, leaving room for interpretation.

Zion's WaterfallThe wall behind and around this silk mural was painted a medium dark brown to echo some of the rock colors, and to help enhance their videos. Apparently darker colors are better than light ones for this.

This church pushed me in a very positive way, from my comfort level of more representational art to more abstract work. I chose a very limited pallet of blues, with a bit of the complementary dark orange/browns, used value  (lights and darks) to drive the design, and really let the silk dye do the work itself instead of controlling it with a lot of detail.

Originally the mural was designed so the cross would hang two-thirds of the way up the banner. This would be on  the lower part of the dark stream coming down from the top, and above the white waterfall streams that are hitting the rocks.  I hope someday they will do this, but we’ll see. When an artist makes a piece it’s a bit like bringing a child into the world: you have to let go when they leave home.

If you would like to follow the process of designing and making this project, scroll down to see 4 or 5 earlier posts about Zion’s Waterfall. You can see the project morphed quite a bit, before we settled on a final design.



A Challanging Color Scheme

New Banner for PA Senior Home

The chapel at Artman Senior Home has a bright burgandy carpet and white walls.  The paraments that decorate the alter are changed seasonally, with a different color for each season. When I looked at pictures of the chapel with the old banner in place it seemed we could do more to integrate the seasonal colors of red, purple, blue, green, white and gold into the space by designing with a new color scheme to incorporate each seasonal color in a better way than before.

©2013 Kristen Gilje, Silk dye on silk, 6'6" X 4'6" for Artman Home, Ambler, PA
©2013 Kristen Gilje, Rejoice in the Lord, silk dye on silk, 6’6″ X 4’6″ for Artman Home, Ambler, PA

The chapel at Artman Senior Home has a bright burgandy carpet and white walls.  The paraments that decorate the alter are changed seasonally, with a different color for each season. When I looked at pictures of the chapel with the old banner in place it seemed we could do more to integrate the seasonal colors of red, purple, blue, green, white and gold into the space by designing with a new color scheme to incorporate each seasonal color in a better way.

Artman Chapel with old banner

I purposely put all the traditional seasonal colors of the Christian church into this design, so that in any season the paraments would find an echo in the banner. Look closely and you will see that green, blue,  purple, red, white, and gold are all included in this painting. And of course we could not forget the burgandy of the carpet!

©2013 Kristen Gilje, Rejoice in the Lord, Silk dye on silk, 6'6
©2013 Kristen Gilje, Rejoice in the Lord, Silk dye on silk, 6’6

It took me quite a while to figure out how to do this. But I remembered a design I made for a stained glass window, installed in North Seattle, that I had always wanted to re-do in silk. It had a yellow-green base color. Yellow-green is the complementary color to magenta (close to the burgandy color) so I chose to go with that same color scheme: Yellow-green, magenta, gold. and I threw in some  cerulean blue for good measure. I think it worked!

Of course I have to give credit to friend and calligrapher Laura Norton,  Bellingham WA, for designing the beautiful lettering that I painted on the silk. You can reach her at [email protected].