Slow down. Take a deep breath. Still your mind. It’s good advice for anyone who wants to feel calmer in the midst of what often feels like the frenetic pace of life; but saying it, and doing it, are often two different things!
As Catholics, we know that God is often found in that “still, small voice” that’s generally hard to listen for—unless we’re deliberate about making the time and space to really try and hear it. But when you set aside time to meditate, exactly how does that work? Do you sit and wait for something to happen? Focus on your breathing and hope that your thoughts will slow down? Try and listen for God to break through?
Doing all that can have you checking your watch, or your smartphone, in no time at all!
Here’s an alternative: an adult coloring book for prayer and meditation. Coloring books of all kinds have become extremely popular over the past few years, and for good reason: studies show that coloring focuses the mind, reduces stress, and helps people slow down. Julie Beck, writing in The Atlantic, notes, “Coloring offers that relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause. It’s a lot like walking a paper labyrinth. There’s nothing to trap you, there’s nothing to solve. You just wander down the path until you’re done. It feels simultaneously like repetition and progression.”
Eastern religions, with symbology that lends itself particularly to coloring, may have been at the forefront of the current connection between coloring and spirituality. Buddhist monk and mandala artist Phuntsok Tsering has said that “It’s not exciting joy, but an inner peace that I get while making the mandala.” And in the early 20th century, Carl Jung pioneered experiments in which patients colored images as a form of relaxation therapy. He wrote that accessing such ancient symbols through repetitive coloring was “an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.”
Perhaps it’s that instinctive impulse that we access when we’re coloring. We don’t have to create the picture; it’s already there. We don’t have to find the focus for meditation and prayer; it’s already there. All we have to do is choose a color and fill in empty spaces on the page. Our minds want to fill in blank spaces, just as our hearts want to be filled with the love of God.
Blake Burleson, senior lecturer in religion, sees the potential of Christian-themed coloring books to revitalize worship by activating different parts of the brain and engaging the body. “It’s a way to refocus our attention on Scripture and takes our head and put it in a more imaginal framework.”
It’s true that we often approach scripture with our minds. We read a passage from the Bible and then we think about it. It’s the way that we as western Christians have come to think about and access our faith. Coloring puts us back in touch with all the sensory parts of our religion, because it bypasses the rational part of the brain and accesses, instead, that “imaginal” part of us. Remember going to Mass when you were a child? It’s probable that when you think back to that experience, it’s not the words or the thoughts that you’re remembering. Instead, you’re remembering the experience: the light coming through the stained glass windows that bathed you in color; the smell of the incense; the sound of the music; the flickering of the candles’ flames. God reaches out to us in many ways, through all of our senses, and if we don’t respond with all of our senses, we are missing out.
So—try a coloring book. See if it doesn’t do all the things it’s supposed to do (slow you down, relieve stress, etc.), and much, much more. A coloring book that can help center your mind and heart on Jesus, that slows you down enough to really meditate on his words and his life, and that can lead you deeper into prayer, is an amazing way to hear—and respond to—that “still, small voice.”
by Jeannette de Beauvoir