Finding Jesus in My Sketchpad

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Art, Jesuit 101, Prayers, Religious Life, Series, Spirituality, The Jesuits

The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to dive deeper into Ignatian Contemplation. To learn more about this form of prayer, check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: Ignatian Contemplation, Encountering God Through Our Imagination.”

I drew my first portrait of Jesus when I was in eighth grade in the way that many artists begin: copying from a reference I found online. In my life now as a Jesuit, I have enjoyed drawing from my imagination as a form of prayer and have learned much more about drawing, about myself, and about the original Creator.

One of my Jesuit brothers quipped that this form of prayer was connected with Fr. Dave Fleming’s appropriately titled version of the Spiritual Exercises: Draw Me into Your Friendship. He was right. I found that as I was drawing Jesus into my sketchbook, he was drawing me deeper into his life. These images capture some of those moments.

In my first year as a Jesuit, I drew every day. Sometimes the act of drawing functioned as a visual Examen, appreciating objects as mundane as the prayer chair and blanket in my room. In this way, my understanding of drawing began to deepen in gratitude for the world around me.

During my Long Retreat, when I spent thirty days in silent prayer, drawing became a much different expression of praying with my imagination. Toward the beginning of the retreat, I saw myself as a street artist, proclaiming: “Christ is King. Christ is risen,” as I offered my drawings on the sidewalk in exchange for donations. After the gratitude with which I received the world around me, I felt moved to offer something back, and my drawings became an expression of that response.

A few days later, I prayed with the meditation on Christ the King, where St. Ignatius asks people to imagine a ruler capable of shaping the world for the better. The implicit question becomes, “who wouldn’t want to follow this type of leader, even if it were difficult?” In my imagination, in addition to a regal ruler with a cape and sword, I saw Jesus wearing a simple robe and being led by a child, plodding along in front of him. It was this pair of images that moved me: Jesus as a powerful ruler trying to redeem the world, and Jesus as a patient companion to the child-like.

Throughout the rest of my retreat, I got to know this side of Jesus who welcomes the child-like and takes joy in their imagination. I imagined the way he would draw people into his presence, with a trust that children recognize easily. In this image, I recognized the one who drew me into the retreat and took joy in my own imagination, as I was learning how to draw him more into my life.

How might you use creativity to deepen your imaginative prayer and allow yourself to be drawn into that friendship with Jesus?

All images courtesy of the author.


Philip Nahlik, SJ   /   All posts by Philip