Praying With Art: a workshop by Sister Chela Gonzalez

Art is an entryway into prayer, and the young women who attend Profundo Encuentro this March will be ushered along that path by a wise and gentle guide, Sister Chela Gonzalez, OP.

“Deep Encounter: Listening with an Open Heart” is designed to help young women attune their hearts to God’s will through a variety of dynamic programming, including four workshops, group reflection and private prayer.

Sister Chela, who serves as vocation director for the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a longtime artist whose creative process is deeply tied to her spirituality. She springs out of bed each morning with no alarm by 5 am, eager to pray and draw.

“My eyes just pop open,” she said. “I cannot wait to have that time alone with God.”

Typically Sister Chela prays as she uses her micro-pens to draw Zentangle art, unplanned drawings intended to help you focus on each stroke rather than the result.

“There are no mistakes in Zentangle,” she said. “It’s artistic but it’s more focused on meditation.”

Sometimes she plays a rosary app on her phone as she draws. Other times she incorporates the Liturgy of the Hours.

During her March workshop, titled “Praying With Art,” Sister Chela plans to present a method of art that incorporates Lectio Divina.

Such an approach offers a powerful antidote to our noisy culture, she said. In an Information Age when young adults absorb vast reams of data by texting and tweeting, scrolling and swiping, art slows a person down and enables her to get in touch with her soul.

“Praying with art helps you to truly listen, which is something we don’t do a lot,” Sister Chela said.

She recommends Jeri Gerding’s book Drawing To God. “It’s about using art as prayer and prayer as art. Her message is: You don’t have to be an artist. You can come from any place.”

Sister Chela hopes her workshop appeals to young women, a generation that seems to be experiencing a resurgence of interest in the creative process, spurred in part by beautiful handmade work shared freely on Instagram and Etsy – some pieces in finished form, others as works in progress.

Prayer too should be a free-flowing process, Sister Chela said. “My goal for the workshop is that others see you can pray in so many ways. You can make anything a prayer if you include God.”

Another goal of the retreat is to invite young women to see a place for themselves in the Catholic Church and in religious life, added Sister Chela, who is a Texas native. She will be moderating a panel in which three young sisters share their discernment stories. One is Peruvian, who offers a valuable immigrant perspective and is likely to resonate with some of the Hispanic women in attendance.

“We welcome everyone,” Sister Chela. “We want to let the dreamers know that they belong. God calls all, and you fit somewhere.”

Her message to everyone attending Profundo Encuentro: “I would repeat words from Pope Francis: ‘Do not be afraid to hear God’s call.’”

As a spiritual director, Sister Chela has learned how to gently guide young people on their spiritual journey. “Your prayer may simply be to ask what God wants of you. You can pray every night, ‘God, I don’t know what you want of me, but I’m praying that you reveal it.’ And it’s OK to be afraid. Give God the uncertainties.”


Further information

“Deep Encounter: Listening with an Open Heart” will be held March 7-10, 2019, in San Antonio at the Hilton Airport Hotel. It is intended for women ages 21-40 who are discerning a call to religious life.

For more information, contact Sister Marichui Bringas, CCVI, director of Vocaciones Hispanas, at or . Learn more by viewing the retreat’s full schedule here or by reading this helpful article about vocational retreats.

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.