I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from Roy DeLeon. Roy is a fellow oblate at St. Placid Priory, dear friend of the Abbey, and presenter in the self-study retreat Exile and Coming Home. Read on for his reflection “An Oblate Artist.”
On a cold, sunny Saturday in February, I am holding a cup of hot coffee from Vita Cafe at the KEPX radio station located in the Seattle Center. My fellow Urban Sketchers (Seattle chapter) are already set up and sketching what caught their eyes. I walk around, scouting the area for the spot that calls: “Here I am. Sketch me.” I see it! Making sure I have a place to sit, I set down my sketching tools and begin. It was cold, barely 40ºF, but that all vanished like vapor as I focused and freed my watercolor brush to dance on the bristol paper and record the serene scene before me.
The Spiritual Exercises for Everyday life Retreat I took part in the 90s blessed me with Fr. Pat, and his unforgettable words. When I told him I wished I could still be a monk, he said: “Roy, the world is your monastery — and wherever you may be, that is your cell, where the Divine longs to be with you.”
That SEEL retreat also prepared me for some of the most difficult events I have experienced in my life: a stroke and my father’s death. The stroke brought me the teachings and practice of Viniyoga and Buddhist Vipassana meditation. My father’s passing ushered me to the warm welcoming hearts of the Benedictine Sisters of St Placid Priory in Lacey, WA. That is where I received my spiritual direction training through their Listening with the Spirit program. I became a Benedictine Oblate with them in 2002.
In 2005, I represented the Priory at the First World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome, where a statue of St Benedict dying with arms raised inspired me to combine movements with my prayers. From that event, I wrote and illustrated the book Praying with the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life, published by Paraclete Press in 2009. A few years after I retired from my job of 30 years as a corporate graphic designer in 2015, my dream of illustrating children’s books came true, courtesy of scholar-author Jon Sweeney. With his creative writing, and my digital illustrations, we conjured Margaret the cat in the 5-book series The Pope’s Cat.
When I retired from my day job, I knew one thing I had to do. I wanted to use up all my art supplies before I die. And more important was how can I apply my God-given time and talent to loving God and neighbors.
One thing I enjoy deeply is sketching folks when I eat out. It can be my friends sitting around the table, a food server, a barista. Then I give them the sketch as a thank you. Sometimes, I see the light in them glow brighter, sometimes they smile back.
Simone Weil said: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” Drawing and sketching are that: total and absolute attention to the subject of the drawing. When pairing this with the simple definition of prayer as “being with the Divine,” the act of drawing for me is a prayer.
Drawing and sketching, whether on location, from a reference photo, or from imagination, have become the most essential tools in my non-stop search for God’s Face, for God-With-Us, for the One Who is in our midst.
My visual art skills are employed heavily in my oblate community life with St Placid Priory. Before Covid, I facilitated workshops on art and body gestures as prayer tools. Lately, I’ve been repurposing the Scriptural Stations of the Cross by using contemporary images based on news photos. It reminds me, and hopefully others too, that the sacred text is a living word of God – that these biblical events play out in our current events.
I close with my guiding Benedictine motto: Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus. That in all things, God may be glorified. PAX.
Roy DeLeon, OblSB, is a Benedictine Oblate with St Placid Priory in Lacey, WA since 2002. He is also a spiritual director certified by St Placid’s Listening with the Spirit program. A retired corporate graphic designer, he wrote and illustrated Praying with the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life, published by Paraclete Press. He illustrated the 5-book series The Pope’s Cat authored by Jon Sweeney.
His daily activities include silent meditation, centering prayer, lectio and visio divina, reading and practicing eastern and western spiritual teachings, long walks in the neighborhood, and drawing and painting on location or from a photo. His art focuses on his search for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty wherever he may be, using ink, graphite or watercolor on paper. He seldom leaves home without a pen and sketchbook. His Facebook and Instagram accounts are currently deactivated, but he is reachable via email.
He lives in Bothell, WA with his beloved spouse of almost 50 years.