Chances are, you or someone you know gave or received a coloring book for adults in the last year. With titles as catchy as “Color Me Stress Free” or “The Art of Relaxation,” the coloring craze has swept the nation. Whether the book contains images of floral gardens, mandalas or other graphic patterns, the idea behind coloring therapy is to find “inner peace” or your Zen through selecting a desired pencil and shading in a printed design.
Coloring reportedly helps reduce stress in adults as it requires the brain, nervous system and muscles to use fine motor skills and therefore engages the participant in a creative action. An added benefit is that it is a skill learned in childhood, so the simplicity of what was once work for a young child is now a pleasant pastime. Regardless of any nostalgia coloring may evoke, the action of coloring allows the mind to rest from the myriad of helter-skelter activities of modern-first-world-living that keep it occupied otherwise.
Together, the right brain and left brain coordinate in the simple repetitive action of moving the pencil to dapple, daub, dot, fleck, or steadily tint the page with pigmentation with infinitely creative possibilities. No matter how many copies of the same pre-printed image are made available, each person who sits down to color expresses their own creative autonomy with the colors they choose, the techniques they use and whether or not they chose to stay within or even create outside the lines.
I wonder if coloring hasn’t become our contemporary culture’s expressed need for connection and integration. Living in a society in which so much is mechanized and automated, we lose track of who we are, how we function and who we are meant to be as human beings. Think about it: for many of us, eating and drinking – a basic human necessity- is something we access through cardboard boxes and cellophane wrappers. Yes, it is convenient to use the drive-thru line to get our Starbucks or use an app to place our to-go order ahead of time to use the handy carry-out parking space at Applebee’s or Panera’s. Such conveniences and technological assists allow us to be super productive in our overcrowded schedule. Yet, whether we like it or not, a sense of alienation begins to creep into our lives, disconnecting us from a life of intentionality, a life of integration, a life of wholeness that is a hallmark of Celtic Christianity.
Celtic Christianity, through its prayers and practices, grounds participants in the fundamentals of who we are as human beings – creatures of God, our lives connected to the earth and related to the world – even the world beyond our tangible senses.
In similar ways, the act of coloring connects us in a fundamental way to who we are as human beings, unified creatures made in the image of God who created us. Our mind, heart, and will are united in creative endeavor and that prods our soul and awakens it into consciousness – integrating our whole being. Instead of continually living a distracted existence that imperceptibly fractures our sense of self and belonging in the world, coloring is a simple, easily accessed and a typically pleasant pastime for many. Coloring allows a person’s mind, heart, and energies to become focused and provides rest and rejuvenation from the rat race that otherwise consumes us.
No wonder coloring has become a fashionable entry point for prayer and meditation. But coloring is no substitution for living a life of intentionality and integrity that is Christian. Even coloring a series of Celtic knots and designs does not make one practiced in the ways of Celtic Christianity – ancient or contemporary. It might be a start, but it is only the initial steps of a lifelong and all-encompassing journey of intentional whole-life discipleship.
In a series of several posts, I plan to explore the heart of Celtic Christianity, what such a life of integration and integrity looks like for a contemporary Christian and why such a life is authentic to our Wesleyan heritage. Each post will consider aspects of everyday life that threaten to distract and distort us from living full lives that seek the sacred and find connection with the endlessly creative Triune God who created the universe.
For those of you interested in taking this journey with me, try your hand at coloring once or twice in the next week. It need not be a Celtic design, but if a Celtic knot will help inspire or ground you in this experience a few links to some free on-line artwork are provided below.
As you color, consider the things you notice about the activity…what sorts of things are conducive to coloring? What distracts you from coloring? Do you enjoy coloring with others or do you prefer doing it by yourself? There are no right or wrong answers, but taking stock of the activity may lead to further insights about what Celtic Christianity might look like in our contemporary culture.
Until then – may this traditional Celtic blessing accompany you on your journey and serve as a benediction.
May you have –
Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks bedside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire.