Coloring Books in Cutting Edge Adult Spirituality

colorBy Joe LaGuardia

Every Wednesday at Trinity, an intergenerational group uses the church’s art studio at the church to paint, sketch, play card games, and fellowship.  I visit every now and then, sometimes joining in the fun or crafting a bulletin for a special service.

One time, however, I was caught off guard.  When I arrived, I did not see anyone painting or drawing or talking.  Rather, people were coloring pre-printed pages from a coloring book.  These were no mere children, and the pages were not from a coloring book intended for young audiences.

The coloring pages consisted of elaborate designs and wildflowers.  One lady–an octogenarian whose original artwork adorns Trinity’s hallways–was coloring one such page of a floral design.

I always enjoyed coloring with my children, and the fresh smell of new crayons and feel of a new coloring book always brings back childhood memories.  This, however, was a craft entirely intended for adults.  It was more than art or recreation, the group colored for the sake of worship.

Trinity is not alone in offering this type of artwork; in fact, several articles published in the last year–one from Baptist News Global and another from Religion News Service–outline a new movement in creative churches that utilize coloring books in its liturgy and special services.

Leslie Miller quoted well-known Episcopal priest, author, and spiritual director Lauren Winner in Winner’s declaration that coloring (or, “prayer by color”) has been a significant spiritual discipline in her life.

The medical community is finding the act of coloring to have both spiritual and therapeutic benefits. Cathy Malchiodi, writing for Psychology Today, claims that coloring is reminiscent of the Tibetan practice of mandala art and ancient disciplines that incorporate the fine arts, liturgical movement, meditation, and centering prayer.

It taps into a basic spiritual longing that connects people across cultures and time–from those who value iconography in the Christian cathedrals to our earliest ancestors who drew crude sketches in the caves of France and Africa concerning battles against the elements and wild beasts.

The discipline of coloring also crosses generational lines.   Ministries similar to Trinity’s provide safe spaces for older members and children of a church alike to express themselves without fear of “staying in the lines” that make too many worship services formal.  (How many of us spent time doodling on tithe envelopes in the pews during service as kids anyway?)

Coloring benefits older saints by improving concentration, decreasing anxiety, and mimicking the effects of meditation, according to Priscilla Frank writing for the Huffington Post.  It benefits children in helping them feel included in an otherwise esoteric service largely intended for adult audiences.

As anything else in the Christian community, coloring will have its critics.  Controversy surrounding the place of fine arts in church is nothing new for Christians; and, like the iconoclasts of yesteryear, many will claim that coloring strange patterns in general and mandalas in particular will have an adverse–even satanic–impact on the Christian mind.

For others, it will invoke adolescence and will be too juvenile to incorporate into any “serious” worship service in which the soul should focus on God, the heart on worship, and the ear on the proclamation of God’s Word.

My guess is that the groups who utilize coloring as a way of prayer and worship will be in the minority, but will greatly benefit from it.  And for churches searching for creative ways to engage young and old alike, it may provide an activity that brings people together, opens up informal times for the sharing of testimonies, and affirms churches as adventurous, artistic sacred spaces in local communities where resources for art have all but dried up.

At Trinity, my hope is that the arts will continue to play a central role in the life of the congregation, not to detract from the traditional worship experiences for which the church is known, but to broaden the mission and ministry of a God who is our Creator creating still.

Mayapple and Resolutions: Sources of Healing for a Hurting World

MAYAPPLE Podophyllum peltatum

Podophyllum peltatum

By Orrin Morris

Many of the resolutions we make for the new year focus on family, economy, and national and global harmony. Resolutions are based on hopes: hope that our sons and daughters will be kept from harm’s way; that we can relate in mutual ways to people whose backgrounds differs from ours; that we become more sympathetic of their struggles in America.   After all, most of us enjoy the delightful taste of their cuisine.  If you have forgotten, may I remind you that only the American Indians are not immigrants.

May the resolutions we make aid in helping peace to be achieved soon, and that it will be worldwide, and may our national economy be robust without the aid of war efforts.

The Christmas season we are completing was foretold in Isaiah. One of the verses said (9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

The wildflower we examine today thrives in rich moist woods either near a stream or in a bog fed by a spring.  Like many of our resolutions, it is a rich source of healing and hope for those in need.

Mayapple is native to North America and was introduced to the early settlers by the American Indians. It is the only species in the barberry family that grows this far south. Blue cohosh and American barberry, both present in the north Georgia mountains, are kin. Neither of them inhabit the East Metro area.

Each mayapple plant has only one bloom, a nodding white flower that emerges in the split of the stem between two very large deeply lobed umbrella like leaves, as pictured. The flower is about 2 inches in diameter, somewhat larger than the true apple blossom.

The name mayapple is associated with the time of its appearance and its fragrance that is similar to the apple blossom. There are six to nine waxy white petals, and generally, there are twice as many stamens as there are petals.

The plant ranges in height from 12 to 22 inches. The two very large leaves, each about 12 inches wide, shield the bloom as pictured. Mayapples bloom from April to June and require rich woodland soils in damp shady clearings. They often grow in large colonies. A good example of a colony can be observed on the lowest loop of the watershed trail at Panola Park.

The fruits, which appear in August and September, are large lemon-shaped berries that are occasionally gathered to make jelly. But a word of caution — the unripened fruit is poisonous, as are the roots and leaves. Nevertheless, two modern drugs are derived from mayapple: podophyllin and etoposide.

May our resolutions be as healing, our hopes as rich, and our outreach as inspirational.

Spiny Field Thistle Communicates God’s Love

field thistle

FIELD THISTLE Cirsium Discolor

 By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 115:113-115, the psalmist describes the idols that men make as having mouths that cannot speak; eyes that cannot see; ears that cannot hear; hands that cannot feel; feet that cannot walk.

Then in praise of the Living Lord, he states, “He will bless those who fear the Lord, the small together with the great. May you be blessed of the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.” Oh what a thought. He blesses “the small together with the great.” Each of us are valued equally in God’s loving eyes.

Society may award millions of dollars in salary to a gifted athlete or clever chief executive officer, but in God’s sight the value scale is different. They are no more important to Him than the poorly paid waitress, or a homeless person, or a Nepalese orphan.

Today we examine a wildflower, the Field Thistle, that is rejected by the farmer because it spoils the hay and gives cattle indigestion. Only goats and aphids love it. In spite of its lowly position, it has a beauty worthy of recognition.

One should approach all thistles with caution. This field thistle does not have spines on the stem like the bull thistle or the nodding thistle but the leaves are armed to make life miserable for intruders.

The blooms of all thistles are very similar. They could be called magenta, but closer examination reveals some hot pink in the center of young blooms and light purple on the outer edges of the aging blooms. The flower heads of the field thistle measure 1 to 2 inches across.

A distinguishing characteristic of this thistle is the leaves under the bloom that curl upward around the flower head. A second characteristic to note is the light color of the stem and the vertical veins of different hues. When undisturbed, the field thistle has been known to exceed 6 feet, but when regularly mowed they rarely reach 3 feet.

Field thistle starts blooming in early summer and may continue into fall. It may be found wherever weeds grow except in regularly cultivated gardens. They like roadsides, waste places and pastures.

From Psalm 115, we learned that God’s attention has no bounds. Let us expand the bounds of our love and learn the full scope of Jesus’s command, “Love they neighbor as thyself.”

The Reverend Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister and artist who focuses on the intersection of Georgia Wildflowers and a variety of biblical themes.  His books, “Consider the Lillies, Volumes 1 and 2,” are for sale by request.  Contact to order your copy today!