Spiritual Practice

Praying Beyond Words

Sarah Arthur

When we think of prayer, we often think of words: words we say silently or aloud, words others say, perhaps even words God says to us. Yet, Christians over the centuries have discovered that prayer is about more than words; it is about being present and attentive to God. We can pray with words, but we can also pray through silence, appreciation of God’s creation, or creative expression: playing music, dancing, painting, sculpting, crafting.

Painting Prayers of Hope

My friend Sue is a pastor and a painter. In her words, “Painting is an outlet for my feelings and puts me in touch with God.” She has been painting since she was a child; but when she became a pastor, she connected painting to prayer. When she prayed for people in her congregation, she says, “I painted images of the hope I desired.”

SueDeerPainting 2My husband and I received one of her painted prayers when our youngest son was born. On a small canvas, two deer rest serenely against a night sky. One deer is seated on the ground; the other stands gazing at the stars, which hover close and bright. No fear is in the scene—only trust, wonder, and the companionship of two creatures.

Sue’s prayer for us as parents is that we gaze upward as Abraham did when God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars (see Genesis 15:5). Sue’s prayer for our two boys is that they be companions who can rest secure in the love of God and family.

Trusting the Process

SuePaintingAtDiner1-2I asked Sue about her process for painting prayers. “I paint without caring about the result, because the process is what matters. . . . I sometimes start out with blind finger-painting and open my eyes to see an image that I can develop. Or I may begin with drips of paint and turn my canvas and make drips going the other way. Then I might take a rag and wipe to see what happens. This experimental approach allows the subconscious mind to emerge with images that surprise me; then I play with them.”

Play is vital to the process because it taps into the part of her that trusts God and prays with hope and earnestness. Sue doesn’t need to know where the process will lead or how she will get there. She turns off the voice that says the picture must be perfect and just keeps painting, which allows her to keep praying.

Words are important for our practice of prayer. But sometimes we need to go beyond words into a creative mode. When we allow our childlike imaginations the freedom to experiment and play, God can meet us with renewed vision and fresh hope, not only for ourselves, but also for those we lift in prayer.


Do you know someone who is struggling, hurting, or in need of healing? Grab some paper and crayons, markers, or paints; and experiment with doodling, drawing, or painting your prayers of intercession. What images express your hopes for this person? What scriptures inspire a vision of what his or her life can be? Try not to focus on making the picture good; give yourself permission to play. If you’re not sure how to start, simply start doodling and see where God leads you.

Art by Sue Trowbridge; photo of Sue by Thomas Stumpfig

Sarah Arthur ( is the author of nine books, including Walking with Bilbo: A Devotional Adventure through The Hobbit.

—from devozine (May/June 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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