PRAYING IN COLOR: Drawing a New Path to God
If you saw me at the coffee shop, scribbling away with my colored pencils, you might think I was doodling --- and pretty primitive doodling at that. But truth be told, I’m praying --- praying in color --- learning a new way to talk with God from Sybil MacBeth’s unique first book. And it’s not just for artists.
The bright, primary colors of the jacket and the unique full-color interior design grabbed me from the start. MacBeth, a math professor, believes that for those of us who struggle during prayer with wandering minds, restless hearts and intrusive thoughts, drawing with colored pencils or markers while we pray will help us focus and remember our prayers. It also will bring joy back to prayer. “When I draw as a way to enter prayer, I get to delight in my prayer and to feel God’s delight that I am making an effort to pray,” she writes. Prayer as joy? I was hooked. Praying in color is a simple concept, and it’s easy to get started.
I began with an ink pen, drawing a small shape on a page of copy paper (MacBeth also suggests a notepad, blank journal, or any sort of paper you feel comfortable with). My friend Rick had just had a heart attack, and he was the first person on my mind to pray for. So I drew a heart, then put his name in it. Simple. And memorable.
Other ways to begin, MacBeth suggests, include writing one of the infinite names for the Almighty in a shape, a reminder that God is ever-present during your prayer time. Yet another option is writing your own name in a shape, if you are in a particularly difficult situation.
Next, MacBeth says to add detail to the drawing, remembering that this is not about being a fine artist but rather about creating something visual to remember your prayer. Each stroke and each moment you spend on your drawing is time spent with God. I added a Band-Aid to Rick’s heart as I prayed for his healing, an encompassing halo symbolizing God’s protection and all-surrounding love, and Rick’s wife Susan’s name leaning on top of the heart (a reminder that she needed my prayers as well).
Next comes the color. MacBeth recommends markers or colored pencils, and notes that some readers like gel pens. I had a good selection of colored pencils, so I used plenty of red, yellow and green to color in my heart and the doodles in and around it. The colors help you bring the symbol of your prayer more easily to mind later, MacBeth believes. I was finished with my prayer for Rick and ready to go to another.
When you move from one person to the next in this way, MacBeth suggests offering a closing prayer, an “Amen” or even more simple, “I’ll be back.” I like that! If the request is particularly heavy, she recommends taking several deep breaths or standing up and moving around to let go of any tension that might have built up.
When you’re finished with your prayer page, you’ll have a virtual collage of color, shapes and names. MacBeth calls this a prayer “icon,” but evangelical readers need not be put off by this. “I use the word icon with the understanding that an icon helps us to see God. We do not worship the image; it has a transparency about it that lets us see through it to a deeper experience of God and God’s presence.” Well said.
Each page has step-by-step instructions that clearly illustrate whatever MacBeth is teaching. She integrates personal anecdotes gleaned from her PRAYING IN COLOR workshops, scripture, vulnerable insights from her own struggles with prayer and answers to potential criticisms.
Stuck on what to doodle? MacBeth includes samples of prayer pages or icons, and chapters full of ideas about who and what we might pray for. We can pray in color for our enemies, to meditate on scripture, to recall certain things, for discernment, or even pray using a prefab calendar during Advent or Lent. MacBeth even offers ideas for praying in color with a computer! There is plenty here to get the most artistically-challenged or prayer-challenged person scribbling away.
This would be a terrific book to use during retreats, youth group meetings, prayer groups, and for personal devotion and meditation times. Writes MacBeth, “A new prayer form gives God an invitation and a new door to penetrate the locked cells of our hearts and minds.” A beautiful image, and one I’m planning to draw --- the next time I go to God in prayer. Thanks, Sybil!
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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