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Can a coloring book bring you closer to God?

Artist Ember Canada held the coloring book she illustrated. Canada illustrated “Beside Still Waters: Coloring the Psalms” last year.
Artist Ember Canada held the coloring book she illustrated. Canada illustrated “Beside Still Waters: Coloring the Psalms” last year. palcala@herald-leader.com

When several members of Central Christian Church first approached the Rev. David Shirey with the idea of the church publishing a coloring book, he admits that his first response was, “What?”

They explained that coloring has become a popular pastime for adults, and they wanted to turn photographs of the church’s stained glass windows and wooden door carvings into a coloring book for adults.

Since then, Shirey has become a coloring convert.

“This is a spiritual practice,” he said recently. “It takes us out of the hamster wheel of our minds churning 100 miles an hour (and) helps to focus our minds and calm our souls.”

Central Christian’s coloring book, “Color Central Arts,” was published in August, in coordination with Shirey’s sermon series highlighting the meaning behind the symbols and artwork in the church sanctuary.

The first order of 50 spiral-bound coloring books sold out quickly, so the church ordered more. Another order will be placed later in the fall, when the church will host a homecoming in honor of its 200th anniversary, Shirey said.

As coloring books have soared in popularity in recent years, so have sales of coloring books with Christian themes.

CBA, an association for Christian retailers, recently listed four coloring books among its top 50 bestsellers for September.

Christian bookstores now carry not only scores of adult coloring book titles, but also greeting cards for grown-ups to color, colored pencils and related supplies. There are even Bibles with illustrated margins waiting to be filled in with color.

It’s just very relaxing. ... It just kind of clears my mind.

Debbie Rice

Among the offerings areBeside Still Waters: Coloring the Psalms” and “Tea for Two: Coloring Friendship,” illustrated by Lexington artist Ember Canada.

The books are part of the Majestic Expressions line of inspirational coloring books from BroadStreet Publishing.

Canada said God “loves to speak in pictures. Potentially, a coloring book can be very powerful.”

Canada, a former Army combat medic who served in Iraq and Japan, said creating the 45 pages in each book was “pretty demanding,” especially considering she has two young children at home.

She delighted in using hidden religious symbols, Hebrew writing and even Morse code (with a triangle in place of a dot) throughout her Psalms book, she said.

Drawing the pages of the coloring books “not only was a job, but it was a devotional,” she added.

Each of the illustrations is accompanied by a verse from the Psalms of the Bible, with the idea that the user will meditate on the scripture while coloring the page.

Though she currently isn’t doing more coloring books, Canada said she’s continued to draw coloring book-style illustrations during her private devotional time.

Her goal for the books is simple: “I hope people experience God.”

Central Christian has a similar goal for “Color Central Arts.” The images in the book were created from photographs John Lynner Peterson took at the church several years ago for a photo book called “Central Arts.”

“When I first encountered the variety of art at Central Christian Church, its relevance and beauty impressed me,” Peterson wrote in the foreword to the coloring book. “Stories of God in action penetrated deeply into my soul. I soon realized that these works of devotion began to lose impact, not because of any change in them but because I no longer paid them the attention they deserved.”

Peterson wrote that his goal for the photos — and by extension the coloring pages — was to separate the artworks from the building, “to challenge us to see them anew.”

“My hope is that many persons will color these pages in a meditative and mindful way that will enhance their faith and nurture their souls,” he wrote.

Coloring has been a part of life at Central Christian in smaller ways for several years. Spiritual director Lisa Maas leads a group called Cultivating Mindfulness that meets on Wednesday evenings at the church.

About seven or eight years ago, she said the group colored mandalas throughout Lent, and “they loved it.”

“Some of them, after that, got their own supplies” and began coloring on their own.

Since then, Maas has added coloring to the silent retreats she organizes for the church, including those during Advent.

On Oct. 1, the church will host a silent retreat with meditations on each page of the new coloring book.

“Our minds want to be busy, so it’s very difficult for most people to sit in quiet meditation,” Maas said. Coloring “sort of tricks the mind.”

“Any way that we can detach from thoughts of the future or thoughts of the past and be in the moment seems to be where we have some sense of the presence of the divine,” she said.

Besides that, she said coloring offers a creative outlet for people who feel intimidated by the prospect of making art.

“It’s fun to create something,” Maas said.

The idea for the coloring book started with church member Debbie Rice. The initial idea was to make just a few coloring sheets as a means of guiding prayer among church members, such as “color the doors and pray for the people coming in.”

But it grew into something much larger. That’s something Canada said she can relate to.

“God can take what we do and do so much more with it,” she said.

If you go

Central Christian Church silent retreat on coloring as a contemplative practice

When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 1.

Where: Central Christian Church, 205 E. Short St.

Cost: $5, and coloring books are an additional $12 each.

RSVP: By Sept. 27. To RSVP or order a coloring book, call the church office at 859-233-1551.

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