When I began doing Sabbath Space with the theology grad students, I simply put out crayons and play-dough and anything else I thought might tempt them to play or pray for a moment.
I also filled the air with yummy candle scents and had quiet corners set aside for peaceful reflection.
But people need a little guidance when they hold a crayon in their hand again after many years, so I went looking for something like a coloring book for adults.
Instead, I found hundreds of mandalas on the internet–fun, intricate, geometric shapes just begging to be colored.
Within the Christian tradition, the use of geometric designs as a part of prayer and reflection has a rich history. Among the Celtic Christians, monks copied the scriptures and illuminated the text with intricate designs, shapes, and creatures, showing that they had a love for the written word, amazing focus and skill, and a sense of humor. One of the greatest of these Gospel books is the 9th century Book of Kells.
In the 11th century, a nun and abbess named Hildegard of Bingen, writer of plays, music, and handbooks of medicine, designed complex mandalas based on visions she had during prayer.
While the ones I found were much less complex than Kells or Hildegard’s, I printed a set of mandalas and strew them on the art table, never expecting what would happen.
The mandalas became the favorite activity. Students took extras home to color during study breaks, some took them to class saying that coloring helped them pay attention better to the lecture.
Soon, they started appearing on bulletin boards and walls all over the theology school.
One student came back each Sabbath Space session for a few weeks, painstakingly working on one extremely detailed design. He said it was helping him reflect on vocational questions.
Some students prayed for people while they colored and then gave the finished mandala to the person with a note.
Others simply let their brains breathe in color and shapes for a time, taking a break from words.
Practice: Select one of the mandalas above (or search for your own) and color it while praying for a person or situation. The act of coloring will focus you in the present moment, but it will also create a visible expression of your prayer time. Consider giving it to the person you prayed for, or putting it up someplace to remind you to continue praying.