Drawn to Prayer
by Sybil MacBeth
I love words. I love the melodic words of the Psalms, the narrative words of the Gospels and the comforting words of prayers and songs heard in my church and home. But in my most urgent times of prayer, words escape me. My attention wanders. Desperate one liners tumble from my mouth. I’m sure God is fine with these simple words of prayer and petition. But my efforts feel puny and pathetic.
Eight years ago, almost a dozen friends and family members were living with an array of life-threatening cancers. I prayed my simple prayers for them, but my worry and frustration increased. One day I was doodling on my back porch with a black pen and some colored markers. I drew a shape, added lines, dots and squiggles and applied color with my markers.
Without any conscious thought, I wrote the name Sue — my sister-in-law with stage-four lung cancer — in the shape. I continued to draw and add color. Sue’s name became the focus of my attention. After several minutes I realized I was praying for her.
Each mark of the pen and every stroke of color became a wordless moment of prayer. Words were unnecessary, but spending time praying for Sue was. I prayed for my other friends and family members in the same way. At the end of the prayer time, the page was a visual prayer list, filled with decorated shapes and names. My worry for my friends was gone.
The drawing sat on the kitchen counter, next to my computer, and on the passenger seat of the car. Every time I looked at the drawing, I prayed again. The drawing became a prompting towards “unceasing prayer.” (1Thessalonians 5:17)
Praying in Color is the name I gave to this doodling prayer form. It started as a way to pray for others when words failed me. But it’s also the way I just hang out with God. With my paper, colored markers and pen, I draw a shape and write God in the center.
My hand keeps drawing, adding lines and color. If I’m looking for guidance, direction, encouragement or purpose, I’ll write those words as part of the prayer. I’ll continue to draw and to listen.
Praying in Color creates a way for me to have quiet time with God. Frequent times like this allow me to practice stillness and listening.
Sybil MacBeth is a dancer, doodler and former community college math instructor who leads retreats and workshops around the country based on her books Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God (Paraclete Press, 2007) and Praying in Color: Kids’ Edition (Paraclete Press, 2009), prayingincolor.com.