Fr. Noel O'Neill with participants at the Lenten Art Recollection
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, face-to-face Art Recollection was back in 2022! The first communities that got to pray and reflect on their faith life through visual arts were the migrants; they were Filipino Catholics of the Diocese of Daejeon. Through the initiative of Columban Fr. Jude Genovia who works full time in Migrants Ministry, the Lenten season was once again experienced face-to-face yet in a safe space. The whole recollection focused on the meditation on the passion, suffering and death of Jesus Christ through the Way (Stations) of the Cross. However, the praying through this five-century-old Christian devotion was done in a method none had ever done before: through a coloring page.
Instead of a loud reading of Scripture and accompanying prayers, recollection participants just prayerfully gazed upon the image in each station. Then they applied colors slowly in a contemplative manner. While colors have their own collective cultural and religious meaning, participants were encouraged to choose a color that reflected their personal experience and life. Also, each one was personally guided on how to apply the colors. The fruit was coming up with their own color palette applied to a moment in Christ’s passion and death that resonated with their own feelings and thoughts. Each one followed their own pace, pulse and strokes in coloring. Two people may have worked not only on the same image but also on identical color combination but the outputs were totally distinguishable by its uniqueness of touch and stroke. Such was its beauty that the reflection sharing, which followed coloring, was rich and diverse yet each one resonated.
Through contemplative coloring, we were able to immerse into the passion and death of Christ and into our experience of suffering and dealing with death. Therefore, it couldn’t be helped that other participants burst into tears as they shared. However, they did not feel alone as a community was there to listen and hold them as they connected with figures like Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, the Women of Jerusalem, Mary mother of Jesus, the beloved disciple, and Joseph of Arimathea. Likewise, we also got in touch with the part of ourselves that is like that of Pontius Pilate, Pharisees and the High Priests, the crowd and the soldiers. One of the most obvious effects the art recollection to participants were a sense of relief from and release of heavy emotions they kept inside. As I look back, I realized that our lives have its own color palette as expressed in the colors applied to the Way of the Cross during the Lenten Recollection.
In Lenten Workshop and Individual Prayers
While I created the coloring page with the thought of Lenten Art Recollection, I got to think also of other groups and individual people who may find the material helpful. So, I turned it into full self-guided coloring book titled “Way of the Cross: Color and Contemplation” with a digital version for easy distribution. One of those to whom I shared the material was Columban Fr. Noel O’Neill, founder of Emmaus Rainbow Community that assists people of special needs in many ways.
On Holy Thursday, Fr. Noel gathered the community and together colored their Way of the Cross. Later, Dr. Chun Yung Hui, a director of a school of art, judged the colorings. And on Easter Sunday during the Mass, there was a presentation and awarding ceremony of artworks that were carefully evaluated and chosen. For our Emmaus friends, the activity was a real experience of labor followed by celebration with the resurrected Christ. The reflection of bright and warm colors reflected the colors in the rainbow that symbolizes the community.
Apart from distributing it to those who work with group facilitation, the digital copy was also shared to individual people. They may reproduce it freely appropriate to their needs as long as they have the digital copy. It was also designed in a way that it can be easily printed on any A4 paper so it is practically available.
Likewise, though they may not be able to use it immediately, they may do so in some other time when the need arises. Any person who is not able to do it with a group can do it alone in one’s preferred space while playing one’s desired background music in one’s convenient time. In this way, there is also no pressure to finish the entire stations in one time. Such is the flexibility and beauty of the material.
The Making of “Coloring the Way of the Cross”
The idea of coloring pages for reflection was a response to questions, what can I do for our Lenten Art Recollection? Since Catholic faithful are drawn to devotion, I decided to work on the Stations of the Cross. However, the prayer is often too wordy so I asked, “How do we meditate on it with less words and rather immerse ourselves in image and colors?
Likewise, thinking about individual people, is there any other way people can pray the devotion in a safer space in the midst of covid19 pandemic? Is there a way where people can reflect on Christ’s suffering and also of their own where, though overwhelmed, they can ground themselves to something like beauty that can hold them in their vulnerability? How can I facilitate people to do the devotion in their own time, space and, to a certain extent, their own way? These were significant questions that led to the making of the coloring pages. The works that followed were also demanding: from drawing works of fourteen different yet harmonized templates to drafting guidelines for coloring procedure and reflection questions as I wanted it available as a self-guided activity. I have chosen the mandala shape due to its spiritual character and universal meaning of wholeness.
Every part of the making of “Way of the Cross: Coloring and Contemplation,” was driven by a pastoral response to God’s desire for humans to experience wholeness and renewal of life beyond the cross. The color palette we choose to fill the Way of the Cross is the color of our life and of our very selves united with that of Jesus of Nazareth. Our passion and suffering have become one with that of Christ our redeemer. In this sense, even in difficulties, hardship and darkness become a way to God who saves us.
I have hope that more people will get to meditate the Way of the Cross using this coloring book and through many other creative ways.
Columban Fr. Jason Antiquera lives and works in Korea.