By Renee Eddington
This past summer during a chaplaincy internship, I was talking with other interns about prayer. I found myself in an odd place of not knowing how to pray, what to pray and why to pray. I was bound up by what I see now as technical aspects of prayer. I needed a concrete formula. I wanted to see results. I was treating prayer as if it were an equation to be solved, resulting in a new solution.
How did I get there? I’m a few classes away from seminary graduation. How could I be questioning all aspects of prayer? Probably because I am in seminary and I have questioned all aspects of my being during the past four years. With all the reading, discussion, research and writing involved in seminary classes, I forgot the most important thing – being quiet and listening to the Holy Spirit. My mind and body were very busy, but what or who was directing me? Was I seeking guidance from God about God’s intention for me at the time of my creation? Or was I fighting God by not being still (Psalm 46:10)?
A staff chaplain kindly interrupted our conversation and told me about praying in color. “Look it up on the internet, I think you’ll like it.” She had me at the word color. I’ve always loved crayons, colored pencils, and Sharpie® markers of every possible color. My family knows a pack of colorful markers is always a well-received gift. Whenever I’ve had a work or school project, my mind immediately goes to how can I make this creative? How can I add some color and flair? I thrive in that creative space.
This wasn’t completely a new idea. I journal and see that as prayer. Sometimes when I journal, I would draw a word or picture that seems meaningful but I usually saw that as “fluff” and not “serious” because we all know that “real” journaling is written in black or blue ink. It’s reflective. It’s something that could be worthy of future publishing, right? I’m thinking here of Thomas Merton – Catholic monk, author and poet. Many of his private journals have been published. I’ve read some of his writings and have a daily devotion book filled with excerpts from his many texts. I’ve not seen Merton’s journals, but I bet they weren’t filled with doodles, decorated words and the occasional colorful sticker. I have visited the Abbey of Gethsemani and the hermitage where Merton spent much time alone, writing at a big wooden desk. I even sat at that desk. I didn’t see any containers of markers or colorful note paper. There were no pink, green and orange highlighters. Actually, the desk was empty except for a small platter of homemade fudge the monks provided to my Spiritual Formation class during our visit.
Somewhere along my spiritual deconstruction, reconstruction and seminary journey, I told myself I had to be serious. In my mind, that meant no creativity. But here’s the thing – I thrive when I’m deeply involved in a creative outlet whether making a wreath for my front door, wrapping a present, designing a class presentation, or reorganizing a bookshelf. When I am engaged in those activities, my hands are busy, but my mind is free. I am focused on the task, but I am free to think and listen. That creativity fuels my soul, plus it provides space for me to hear God. Seriousness and creativity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I need both to be the emotionally healthy person God intended.
And now we return to last summer in the pastoral care office where that wonderful staff chaplain suggested praying in color. I did look it up on the web (Welcome to a New Way to Pray | Praying in Color) that night and tried it. Guess what? I was focused. I didn’t worry about praying in proper sentences. I didn’t worry about how or what I said. I had a conversation with God and it was good. It was creative. What is this process I’m writing about? It’s essentially combining prayer with doodling. When I started praying through a combination of journaling and doodling with all the colors, my prayer life was revived. I want to pray now. I look forward to praying now.
For whoever needs to hear this, there is no certain way to pray. If you need to talk out loud to God, do that. If you need to journal in color, do that. If you need to quietly meditate, do that. Here’s the thing – God wants us to communicate. The Holy Trinity is waiting to interact with us. The method of that communication doesn’t matter. If your prayer life is stuck in the muck, maybe praying in color is the spiritual practice you’ve been looking for and didn’t know it, like me.
Renee LaBreche Edington is a CBF Leadership Scholar. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and worked in the behavioral health field for 25 years before leaving that world to pursue a Master of Divinity with a concentration in pastoral care and chaplaincy at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky with an expected completion date of May, 2024. Renee is a two-time Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) Leadership Scholarship recipient. She and husband Nathan Cook are members of Calvary Baptist Church and live in Lexington, KY where they are parents of 17-year-old twin daughters, one odd dog, and four cats. Renee is a full-time seminary student and a part time chaplain at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital where she completed a chaplaincy internship this past summer.
“Praying in Color” is a very interesting idea, even for ones who have no problem with praying. This may add new ways to add thoughts to your prayer life, more color and energy. It may help you in your own prayer life if you think it is lacking. Praise God in your words and thoughts. Amen.