My mom had six kids; the neighbor had six kids. Between the two houses we had enough players for any game! So when our parents traded babysitting, we played sports at the neighbor’s house; but at our house, all twelve kids sat at a table and learned about drawing. Thus began my journey… and I learned the power of creativity.
Many years later, I went into the field of Art as Therapy, rather than trying to live the identity of artist. I learned that working with art materials lowers blood pressure. It can be a way to channel stress from inside the body out onto paper or canvas. Doodling has a calming effect–that’s why anxious students draw around the edges of their papers. This practice comes naturally.
But I think there is more to it than the physiological response. We have a deep longing for silence. And we have a deep longing to connect with the Source of all creativity and beauty. Wrapped up in the creative experience is that restless desire for God.
The Healing Power of Creativity
It was about nine months ago that I began to take a new look at the drawings I have handed out to my Sunday School students. I drew images of Jesus, Mary and the saints so the 8-year-olds could color. At our church’s Fall Family Fun day, I hang them up with short descriptions and ask people to identify the figures. But I have noticed that parents would look longingly at them. When these line drawings are neatly filled in and accented with doodles and designs, they can become something very special. They become something which is personal and meaningful.
So now I have assembled my drawings into a Coloring Book for grownups! My idea is not that people will simply fill in between the lines: I have left white space so that basic design ideas can be added.
My creative side used to rebel against “staying inside the lines”…I would always encourage people to express their inner selves by making their own unique mark on the page. However, faced with a blank piece of paper, many grownups feel anxious about getting started. With coloring pages there is a beginning–no need to be the first to make a mark! Once that initial anxiety is gone, it is time to add something that is a personal response to the image.
St. Augustine said that singing is “praying twice,” but I am now realizing that coloring can be an opportunity for praying “three times.” When we focus on holy images, using our eyes and hands in a creative way and interacting with the image by adding designs, we are glorifying God!
Mirroring the Creator
In designs we see the beauty of God all around us. In the patterns of flowers and the graceful curves of a horse, we see God’s love for beauty and pattern. Lines, spirals, curves and scallops form pleasing patterns which can be used during coloring.
When Pope Saint John Paul II wrote a Letter to Artists, he said, “The human craftsman mirrors the image of God as Creator.” The Creator calls us to give back to Him by really looking and then reflecting back some of the beauty He has given us.
In 1943 a Carmelite priest named Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen wrote about the power of using the imagination. He says the purpose of having a sacred image to look at is “to facilitate the work of reflection…it is much easier to think of the Scourging with a picture of it before us. The picture has the advantage of holding the fantasy in check.” The concrete image helps focus the attention. And from there we begin to converse with the One who Loves.
St. Ignatius of Loyola taught his followers to form mental images of the life of Christ and meditate as if they were there in that scene. But for some, this is difficult to do. In fact, St. Teresa of Avila said she could not imagine anything when she tried to pursue this practice. So she took a holy image with her in contemplative prayer: to look at and then to imagine being there.
The next time you want to pray in a new way, consider coloring holy images! It can be therapeutic for your physical health, but it can be so much more! In the silent imagining process, God comes to us.
Costello, Judith, Sacred Images: A Coloring Book for Prayer, 2015, available on Amazon and at www.unwindstudio.com.
Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, Little Catechism of the Life of Prayer, 9th edition, Translated from Italian by The Carmel of Maria Regina, Oregon, 1982.