In Loyola Press’s recently issued children’s book, Dear Pope Francis, a child asks the Pope where he likes to pray. His answer is that there are a few places he prays regularly (at his desk, or in the church before the Blessed Sacrament) but that he has learned that he can pray anywhere, even when he’s at the dentist’s office. He makes it clear that prayer is a moveable activity, that God is always listening, no matter where we are.
I don’t doubt God’s ability and willingness to listen to prayer wherever and whenever. The big question for me is: Where am I most likely to settle down and pray with any workable level of attention? Is it good enough to catch a few moments of prayer wherever and whenever? In my experience, that’s not enough. It’s too easy to skimp on prayer when I’m catching bits of time here and there. It’s better to have a set time and place.
These, too, can be moveable. I used to try to pray in the morning before I walked the dog, but the dog made it clear that once I was up, he was awake and so was his bladder. Then it’s difficult to concentrate on anything until the cats have food in their dishes—otherwise they are communicating ever so clearly that, even as I pray to God, I am starving God’s creatures. So now I pray right before I leave for work, when the creatures have been tended. The danger of this is that if I’m running late, prayer time can be cut short.
The place changes with the seasons. When weather is mild, I am more likely to pray in the backyard; prayer and morning seem to go together so well, and bird song is a great accompaniment. Because I usually chant a psalm during my morning prayer, I choose a place where I’m not likely to be heard. This means that I pray in a room separate from our bedroom, because my retired husband is still asleep when I’m off to work.
There was a time when my best prayer was in the car on my morning commute. I could pray out loud; however, I could not use a prayer book, which is my preference now. I commute by public transportation now, and at times I pray with a book silently on the train if my schedule is off and I’m missing my morning prayer too often.
And there are times when my best prayer is on the train but not with any book. I simply regard my fellow travelers and include them in my prayer. For instance, I focus on a different passenger with each line of the Our Father. This brings my private prayer outward, which is good to do sometimes.
Prayer is like any other valuable daily activity. You have to be willing to work with it, experiment, even play with time and place and mode and material. The point is to try. Usually it helps to have a set time and place, because humans do well with established habits. But some of us get bored easily, or our creativity kicks in and wants something different. God is all for creativity. Mostly, though, God wants our hearts to turn Godward, ever and often.