I am forever grateful for parents who let me draw in church.
I see parents like that around me in our church now; there are kids who use just a pencil or a pen and a notebook; kids with a box of crayons and a coloring book. Like these kids, the artistic occupation was, at first, a way to help me engage with the relatively “still” task of listening. It’s hard for a kid—especially fidgety ones like I was (and still am.) Drawing, I discovered, actually helped me listen. It doesn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of kids like me.
Gradually, expectations were added to my doodles. I was encouraged to write down one or two things I remembered our pastor saying; as I got older, I learned from both school and church that there were verbal signals to help me catch the main points being presented. No one ever told me to stop doodling, but I gradually came to understand there were appropriate times to doodle and times when words were more appropriate. (Later I had this conversation with my own students when I found them drawing in their borrowed textbooks. Huge no-no. If they owned the book, fine. But borrowed??) Yet somehow, I also caught from general culture that doodles and pictures as notes were sort of childish. You know the feeling; if you saw a full-grown adult drawing pictures during the sermon, it would be…atypical.
Sometime in college, while copying down a table of information, the professor called it an “illustration.” I knew what he meant, but it made me look at it again; it wasn’t REMOTELY my idea of an illustration. It was a series of cubes and rectangles stacked and labelled—like a really sterile political cartoon. And it was at that moment that I decided it was time for me to take notes my way. I knew how to doodle—had never really stopped—and I knew how to take academic notes. I gave myself permission to combine them. I gave myself permission to draw in school and church.
Only a few years ago, I discovered an artist and college professor who does this very thing. John Hendrix goes to church with his art bag, spreads it all out on the pew, listens, and draws. He eventually began to sell those as books, encouraging people to listen and think through images. (His books on the Holy Spirit are…wow…ouch.)
I’m no John Hendrix, and I don’t always come out of a service with a fully realized illustration of what I have heard. But this has become a huge part of not just how I hear, but how I learn, and how I remember. Does the average person return to their sermon notes and read them throughout the week? I suspect not. But when I have started an idea in illustration while in church, I have to complete that thought process later—and I think that’s closer to the point. So I make a sketch above and around and inside the more traditional note-taking words.
Then I take it home and on Monday, I redraw it on a piece of watercolor paper—lately, a piece I have torn down to around 4×5 inches. It takes time. Perhaps on Tuesday, I ink it. Then on Wednesday, I apply the watercolor.
You know what I’m doing? I’m meditating.
Is that what you think of when you think of meditating? Do you know how YOU meditate clearly and deliberately? I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing for a long time. But when you’re refining the idea behind a sketch and drawing in pencil, then ink, then watercolor, you’re meditating on it three times beyond the original note-taking. Spending all that time on it doesn’t allow you to forget it quickly, and on Thursday and Friday, I’m still thinking about the passage and its application.
I’ve started sharing my drawings from church, not because they are amazing, but because I hope that if it helps me to return to the same idea, it will help other people. An illustration that isn’t just labelled cubes and columns, but colors and movement.
Have you ever drawn in church? You should try it. It might be the piece you’ve been missing.