Adult coloring books are trending big now and have been for a couple of years. People have been drawn to them (hee hee) for a number of reasons. It reminds them of their childhood. It’s relaxing. It feels like real art without having to know how to draw.
When I first got to know Sr. Jolynn, our spiritual leader here at St. Anthony’s, we discovered pretty quickly that we were both coloring book addicts. Her preferred style is mandalas, which tend to be circular and always have repeating patterns. I was intrigued that she described her coloring times as prayer times.
Praying with Mandalas is like that. It’s a font of creativity in the manner of ways you can pray with the patterns and the colors, the different questions you can ask God as you make your color choices and carefully fill in the empty spaces. The coloring becomes a repetitive mantra as in contemplative prayer and you can be open to hearing the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.
My daughter and I love the illustration-type coloring books with beautiful, tiny details. A single page in one of those books can take several hours. I’ve gone through several books of them and several sets of “pipsqueaks,” thin-tipped markers made by Crayola in dozens of colors.
The other night, Anna and I were coloring together before bed. I mentioned that Jolynn prefers her “20-minute prayer” mandala designs for coloring books, which is why she gave us her extra books that didn’t quite suite her. Anna, who is nine and a half, asked me how coloring could be a prayer if you aren’t using words.
I explained and then suggested she listen to me pray aloud while I color. I picked a fresh page and examined the picture. “Okay, God. It’s me, Cheryl. Help me sort through some things in my life.”
“There are beautiful flowers all over this page that remind me of the flowers you created outside. Thank you for those flowers. I think I’m going to make some of these flowers different shades of pink.”
“Thank you for the sunlight that makes this part of the petal more pale than the rest. When the sunlight hits my cheek, I glow as well. I feel like this picture is telling me I should go out and let the sun shine on me whenever possible because it’s winter and I tend to get depressed.”
“Thank you for the shadows that hide in the creases of the flower. The artist who drew this picture used cross-hatching in the shadowy places to add dimension. I think I’m going to make those shadows stand out a lot in this picture, and I’m going to add more shadows by using different colors. Loving Father, I have a lot of shadows in my life. While I love the sunlight, and your Light washes me white as snow, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today without the shadows I’ve walked through to get to the Light. Thank you for making my life deep and lush and definitely not one-dimensional. I’m a better wife, mother, employee, catechist, Franciscan… a better everything because of the dimensions of my life, both in my youth and now in this phase of my life.”
“Notice, Precious Jesus, how these two roses are kind of hard to tell apart? I’m going to make them contrasting colors so the eye will be able to tell at a glance that they are separate. They are different and equally beautiful. Dear God, please help me to always remember that even if someone is different than I am, they are equally beautiful in your eyes. That reminds me… sometimes I feel like I’m too different from other people, and I don’t fit in. Will you give me some peace about that?”
“And finally… thank you for butterflies. They never cease to make me smile whenever I come across one in real life. Thank you also for the surprising bursts of joy you sometimes spring on me when I’m suddenly filled with Holy Laughter for no apparent reason. Thank you for joy in general. Thank you for the people who flit across my path and delight me. Please bless them and keep them safe from those who would want to pin them to a board or pluck off their wings or whatever the human counterpart would be. Amen.”
Prayer can seem daunting and like you need to be really creative about it. You need to use fancy words and phrases. But it can be as simple as carrying on a conversation with a Friend about something tedious or mundane you are doing. “Dear Jesus, let’s talk while I’m scrubbing this floor. My soul needs a lot of scrubbing today; let me tell you about it.”
And in the repetitive motions, the little details and dim corners, some of those stains are scrubbed off, and hopefully your floor gets clean. Talking to God while coloring is like that as well. I use the picture as inspiration for what to talk to Him about, and then I just start babbling and chatting away and see what stirs in my heart as I pause and listen for a bit.
The finished artwork is nice as well. Which reminds me, I won’t be a finished piece of artwork until heaven, where I bet there are lots and lots of markers waiting for me.