The Sketching as Prayer Retreat (via Zoom), taking place at the end of this month from Immanuel Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., didn’t come from a seed of inspiration, rather from a seed of frustration. A few years ago, Melissa Fischer, a member at Immanuel, was feeling fatigued about her prayer life. One rainy November day, she took a walk in the woods with a friend with plans to confess.
She was, after all, Immanuel Church’s prayer coordinator.
“God made you an artist,” her friend responded. “Is there some way you can combine your art with prayer?”
So Fischer began to sketch. As she did, she began to think of people in her life—both with gratitude and concern for any challenge they were going through. “I realized I was praying, but I had no plans to pray.”
During this time, Fischer was also meeting with a monk, her spiritual director, and with his help, she began formulating an idea for a Sketching as Prayer retreat. “I wanted to lead a retreat because it was becoming integral to my prayer life.” She began leading retreats at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, N.Y., but then talked to Bill Hanchett, the pastor at Immanuel, and has since offered two at Immanuel as well.
Fischer said Sketching as Prayer is a way to slow down and see God. “We are helping ourselves see,” she said. Last January, she led a retreat where participants took a look back on the previous year. They began meditating on Psalm 90, and Fischer asked participants a series of questions as she led them through a few sketching and watercolor techniques: What blocks you from slowing down and experiencing God? What is one thing that God is asking you to attend to? How is God growing you?
Hanchett, who has been a participant, said the retreats “provide a natural opportunity to invite friends with a common interest in art, poetry, and photography to experience how we can see God in his creation and in the beauty of form and color.”
Judith Butler, a member of Immanuel Church and also a past participant, said Fischer gave the group a brief overview of watercolor washes and let them experiment for a bit. Though she was new to sketching and painting and intimidated to give it a try, Butler said Fischer’s thoughtful guidance and promptings gave her the time and space to revisit memories and ways God was working in her life and heart.
The upcoming Sketching as Prayer retreat is 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30. Fischer has scheduled this to be shorter than an in-person retreat, planning on less time for silent prayer and sketching via Zoom, but she is hoping for a similar outcome—that is, that God’s presence will be felt.