I read this week that writing is more about listening than it is about thinking. Similarly, I think that prayer is more about listening than it is about talking. When I pray through a list—the things I “ought” to pray for—my words so often get stuck, my well running dry. Instead, when I inwardly listen before I speak, I become aware of burdens for individuals I have not consciously thought of in a long time, worries I have not acknowledged, and confessions that need to be released. These prayers are genuine, and, as a result, they are alive. They open the door to communion with my heavenly father. Coloring helps me to listen. Coloring is, for me, an act of spiritual discipline. In coloring I give myself permission to do only what is in front of me, I relinquish my Martha need to be productive, and slow my pace to one squiggle at a time. The blessing in this attentive calm is that I am not so aware of the time that is passing, my mind is kept from jumping to the next part of the day, and I begin to hear the manna for the moment: sing this melody of adoration, remember this promise, pour out your heart about this matter.
I became more conscious of this relation between coloring and devotion through Margaret Feinberg’s new coloring journal Live Free: Craft God’s Word in Your Heart Through Creative Expression (Amazon). She constructs this book by pairing twenty verses about our identity in Christ with corresponding images to color. On the opposite page of each image she provides lines for journaling reflections. The one I worked on this week is hot air balloons, corresponding to the verse from Ephesians 1:3, which reminds us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. As I held this verse in my mind while coaxing bright colors into blank spaces, I began asking myself what spiritual blessing I not yet opened my hand for today, envisioning (I won’t lie) aid baskets from The Hunger Games that I have the opportunity to reach out and grasp. On a subsequent day, working on the same picture, I began to question what baskets of blessings God has placed around me today, allowing some moments of thankfulness. I’m sure each day could bring a different awareness.
Of course, coloring, like anything else, does not have to be directly spiritual to attune our hearts towards God. The other coloring book I have enjoyed lately is the classy Paris Street Style by Zoé de las Cases (Amazon). This coloring journal makes me feel elegant. It is styled with a ribbon bookmark and a band closure, with gilded outlines on the cover. Small enough to fit easily in my purse, I take this one with me to work, and doodle on my breaks. The topic is fashion, with rows of shoes, dresses, accessories, bathing suits—you name it—, waiting to exhibit your artistic style. If Live Free’s strength is leading the colorer down a specific mental path, Paris Street Style’s strength is freeing our boundaries. Though the figures are fully outlined (for people, like me, who cannot draw to save their life), many of them have wide blank spaces, inviting you to add textures, and designs, not just colors. Creating beautiful outfits makes me happy in real life, and on the page, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say God finds pleasure in a beautifully paired wardrobe too. He did, after all, give us an eye for beauty.
It doesn’t have to be coloring. Dishes also help me slow down and listen sometimes. But whether through meditation on scripture, or simply through a bit of creative expression, I invite you to join me in taking moments to relinquish our need to get the most things done on a to-do list, and listen, even before we pray.
Review copies courtesy of Bethany House, and Random House publishers