When it comes to connecting with God, contemplation is key. As Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM put it: “Silence is God’s first language.” Sitting in silence and stillness, then, and focusing only on breath or even a specific word is important in deepening one’s spirituality.

Yet, sometimes stillness can be tough: no one understands that better than Dominican Sister of Hope Donna Brunell, OP. She knows that intentional movement, such as doodling or coloring, can actually help her to focus during prayer and be more mindful. Now, Sister Donna wants to share that gift with others.

This fall, Sister Donna is offering Praying on Paper, a creative program at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center that helps participants to pray individually while exploring an artistic bent. The two-and-a-half hour long afternoon sessions are offered on six Wednesdays through February. While each session will highlight a new design as well as a unique prayer focus, no prior artistic experience is necessary.

According to Sister Donna, “Being creative fosters a connection with God as Creator and Imagineer.” When she is using her hands, she is “feeling peaceful.”

Whether you’re able to come for just one session of Praying on Paper, all six, or none, you can still put your hands to work during prayer to sharpen your focus. Below are four ways to doodle your way to quality time with the Divine.

Sister Donna with her mandala

1. Try Mandalas

Just looking at mandalas is absorbing; tracing the intricate lines and curves is even more engrossing. It’s no wonder that these intricate designs are a favorite of many of our sisters. Whether you’re printing a mandala to color or you’re sketching the mandala yourself, the focus on the center point is an apt metaphor for prayer itself. We might branch out and swirl around, but our prayer always comes back to the center, to God.

2. Go for Print

With a plethora of coloring books and free coloring sheet downloads, there’s no need to worry about creating your own custom design. Leave the skeleton to someone else and focus instead on color: the way it mirrors your mood, your prayer, and speaks to all of God’s creation. Even different utensils (markers, colored pencils, oil crayons, etc.) can help to create a varied and vivid effect.

Some sisters particularly enjoy coloring books in which images are accompanied by Bible verses. It’s helpful that the words provide a point of focused reflection. Find samples here or try the Whatever Is Lovely coloring book.

3. Trace a Favorite Word or Verse

Focusing on a verse while coloring an image is one way to go, but another option is to focus on coloring the verse itself. Allow each word to come alive inside of you while you fill it with color on the page. Concentrate on its meaning, its intention, its connection to the words around it, and its place in your heart.

We particularly like these free samples

4. Branch Out

Sister Donna doodles while she prays, but her creativity doesn’t stop there. She also quilts, scrapbooks, and photographs, just to name a few. Moreover, creativity runs in the family: her sister, Dominican Sister of Hope Judy Brunell, sculpts and colors to foster her prayer.

If coloring or doodling isn’t for you, try exploring other ways to pray using your hands. PitterandGlink has a tutorial on Bible Journaling that’s especially beautiful.

Now that you’re excited about praying creatively and are armed with a host of ideas of how to do it, you just need time and a quiet space where you can let your artsy side flourish. Mariandale provides just that. The Center offers a quiet, well-lit, spacious environment including contemplative space to create, overnight accommodation, and 61 acres of nature along the Hudson River. In addition to structured programs such as Praying on Paper, we offer time and space to pursue your art and prayer on your own schedule.

Grab some paper and markers, commit to silence, and let your creativity flow. The connection that ensues might just surprise you.

Praying on Paper is offered at Mariandale six Wednesdays, 1:00 – 3:30 pm: September 7, October 12, November 9, December 7 2017: January 11, February 8. Contact Mariandale for more info.