Over the past couple of years, adult-oriented coloring books have become extremely popular, even to the point of becoming top sellers on Barnes and Noble and popping up on the New York Times Bestseller List. A casual review of best-selling adult coloring books on Amazon reveals everything from innocuous unicorns, flowers, cats, and fairies, to more PG and R-rated Game of Thrones-themed books and even an entire sub-genre focused entirely on swear words. And while some of these coloring books are simple titillations, many have spiritual significance as well. From Indian and Buddhist mandalas to native American dream catchers to Christian cathedral rosette windows, these books invite the colorer to focus, meditate, internalize, and relax.
Interestingly, the coloring book itself is of relatively contemporary origin. First published in the 1880’s, these simple books emerged as a result of the influence of the “democratization of art” movement in which art was seen as a means toward promoting conceptual understanding and cognition in students. Eventually—and perhaps inevitably—coloring books became quite popular with the advent of the comic strip and the animated movie. Besides art, the medium has also been appropriated in many diverse ways and forms, including product advertisements, political satire, and even propaganda.
Today’s current trend toward coloring books for adults is rooted in an implied understanding that focusing on the act of coloring relieves stress and anxiety. Some also argue that coloring is an act of anti-technology, something that allows our brains an opportunity to unplug and recharge. And some argue that coloring is an invitation to re-experience some aspect of one’s childhood. And while I believe all of these reasons to be experientially true, I think that we may have somehow missed the point.
You see, the very act of creativity is a life-giving act. That’s how God made us.
Because I believe that it is not just the re-experiencing of one’s childhood memories that we crave. It is more so the act of once again being a child, with child-like curiosity and wonder and a natural craving for the creative process. Our adult souls are filled through the act of creativity, because that is how God wired us. But in our high-tech, entertainment-filled, internet-saturated world, we adults have simply lost the means to express it.
It is what makes young boys and girls gravitate to the crayons and coloring pens, daring to see something on that blank sheet of paper, daring to place a yellow, hopeful sun in the top corner of the page, daring to color a fire truck or a flower or an alligator. Daring to imagine what that blank page can become.
At my church, we typically place round tables at the back of the main auditorium for those who want to sit with their children, away from the standard rows of chairs. On these tables, we typically place colored pencils and religiously-themed coloring materials to give the children something to do. And often times, it is the adult at the table, not just the child, who is carefully and quietly coloring away.
Perhaps there is a reason for the creative impulse that God placed in us. Perhaps our imaginations are rooted in something more profound, more innate, more spiritual. Perhaps Jesus’ invitation to become like a child has larger implications than we understand.
Let me close with an invitation. Grab a few crayons. Take a deep whiff of that Crayola smell. Roll the crayon in your palm and let the wax flecks linger on your fingertips. And then take a blank sheet of paper and dare to make a mess on it.
[Photo Credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash.]