Margaret Marcuson: Drawing pictures for Advent--even though I’m not an artist

Last year I began Advent by making a quick drawing on a 4x6 card of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. It’s reproduced in one of my favorite Advent books, The Mystery of Holy Night, a collection of Advent and Christmas writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book includes several Advent and Christmas-related images, and I spend the weeks of from Advent 1 through Epiphany drawing them all.

Paying attention is an essential part of spiritual leadership. Drawing is one way to learn to pay attention. I’ve looked at reproductions of the Fra Angelico painting many times. I saw it in Florence decades ago. But I saw it differently when I took the time to draw it. I saw the space in the painting. I saw the expression on the face of the angel and on Mary’s face. I saw the wings on the angel. They have stripes of color!

Artist Austin Kleon quotes cartoonist Chris Ware saying that we’re all going around in a “cloud of remembrance and anxiety.” According to Ware, the act of drawing helps us live in the moment and concentrate on what’s really in front of us. (See Kleon’s book, Keep Going, p. 108).

My drawing wasn’t very good, and I didn’t spend much time at it. Yet it still changed my perspective on the painting.

I often help church leaders think through and physically, draw out the relationship triangles they are part of in their ministry. It helps them step back from the “cloud of remembrance and anxiety.” They can stay in the moment and think through what’s going on, what are their choices and what is their responsibility right now.

This year, with its multiple levels of intensity, could be good time to step back and draw something. Whatever is going on in your church and community through these weeks of virtual Advent services, political turmoil and pandemic uncertainty, put a pencil to paper.

Take a minute, and breathe. Think it through. Write something down. Draw a triangle or two and look at the relationships you are in. Breathe. Think again. Then pray for everyone on the piece of paper, including yourself.

Click here to get six ways to lead less anxiously and sustain yourself through these days.