Getting Outside for Prayer

cardinal on tree branch in winter - photo by Harvey Reed from Pexels

One of my favorite poems is Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.” The poet speaks of retreating into the world of nature when the world of politics, work stress, or other anxieties get in the way. I understand the draw. I’ve had periods in my life when long stretches of silence come easily and God’s presence is felt in that silence, times when conversation comes easily, but then I’ve experienced times when the business of life or the worries of the world make it difficult for me even to sit still! In those times, one of my strategies is to go for a walk outdoors and to seek God in the experience of nature.

Berry’s poem speaks of the mindfulness of being present to the wonders of God’s creation. This mindfulness refers us back to God the Creator almost seamlessly, not only as an abstract cause, but as something present there in the encounter with creation.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

We can learn from being in the presence of animals the peace of heart and mind that can come from being in the moment rather than thinking of the future. After all, right now, right here, God has given us the gift of the enjoyment of our surroundings: the sky, wind, trees, grass, the scents and sounds of plant and animal life, or even snow and ice. The cardinal that flashes red as it flies beneath the branches of the pine tree attracts my attention. The smoothness of ice beneath a duck sitting on a frozen pond eases my own thoughts.

There are other strategies, too, for when prayer seems too hard. We can do as St. Teresa of Ávila counseled and sit down anyway for the prayer time that the clock demands, even shaking our fist at the clock a little, but know that by showing up, we are still in relationship. We can come to prayer and express to God that we feel too harried or anxious to pray and let that be our prayer. We can pray memorized prayers that we have known and loved before and see if those can carry us through. We can even pray in silence and know that there is nothing wrong with being fidgety and distracted and that God is present even in our fidgets. All these are “good prayer.”

Still, for me, when my ordinary prayer goes nowhere, I find that putting on my boots, opening the door, and getting into the woods, onto a field, or trouncing through the crunch of snow restores something of the connection between me and the lived experience of God’s greater glory really being “greater.” And “I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” (Berry)

Photo by Harvey Reed from Pexels.

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Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.

1 COMMENT

  1. Nice one. Thanks Marina. Searching and finding the divine in all places has been a Gandhian way of proceeding. “I want to realize sisterhood/brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things as crawl upon earth” – Mahatma Gandhi

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