I think that sometimes we make prayer difficult because we separate it from what is concrete in daily life. We develop the attitude that prayer is supposed to be something in the mind and heart, a spiritual quality hard to define and somewhat elusive to experience.
Yet Jesus urged his disciples to pray, to ask God for what they wanted, and to never give up at prayer. The Gospel accounts tell of his regular excursions out to lonely places, often before the day began, to pray by himself. If true prayer is so elusive, I doubt that Jesus would emphasize it so much and encourage us to do it all the time.
Jesus lived in an earthy, agrarian context, so it makes sense that much of his prayer happened outdoors, just over a hill or perhaps in a cave or by a stream. But I wonder if we should give up those physical settings for prayer just because so many of us live in cities now. Maybe prayer is meant to happen with trees, clouds, and creatures around us. Maybe our prayer will deepen and come more alive if we allow it to be grounded in the creation God has provided.
As we explore prayer this summer, I encourage you to connect at least some of your prayer to creation. Pray on your porch—or balcony, if you’re in a high rise—or in your backyard or on a bench in a nearby park. Pray as you move—walking alongside a lake, ocean, river, pond; walking in your neighborhood, walking a well-worn path that seems entirely ordinary and is part of your daily routine.
If going outdoors is difficult, then bring nature indoors. Put a plant or two in your prayer space. Buy a little indoor, desktop fountain. Place favorite stones or shells in the room. Open the window so that outdoor air can come in with its scents and its sensation of warmth or chill.
Pray with stones or flowers in your hand. Pray with all the window shades open, so natural light comes in. Invite the basics of creation—earth, wind, water, light—to soak into your people-made rooms.
- How do you ground your prayer in creation?
- What experiences with creation have helped your prayer?
This post is part of a series: Praying Through the Summer.
Yes, and while we are praying with creation we need to include praying for creation and how we are caring for that gift from God.
We recently had a vacation in South Africa that included several days at a private safari camp near Kruger National Park. Each day, morning and late afternoon we would go into the bush looking for animals. During the drives (at one point we were surrounded by 30 elephants) I thought how easy it was to experience God in everything as Ignatius tells us. It was wonderful. After we returned, I was telling my spiritual director about this and the thought occurred that what we had experienced was like the Garden of Eden. Fabulous, fantastic, thank you God.
About a month ago I dropped my wife off at physical therapy and I drove down by the river in town and sat on a bench next to the water and prayed the rosary. It was so peaceful and relaxing and just a different experience from praying indoors.
Sitting here in my backyard, enjoying the breeze which is moving ornamental grasses in the loveliest way imaginable,I just want to thank you for your realization of the importance of all of creation. Being a Secular Franciscan and having completed the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius recently, I feel overwhelmed with grace and beauty everywhere. We are so blessed. Thank you for your helpful tips on bringing nature inside.
For me, it’s whilst cycling along a country lane !
This helped me in many unexpected ways – so like our God!
Thank you, Vinita
The summer I had returned to the Church, after many years away, I felt called to a trail in a nearby woods for daily meditative prayer. Always I focused on the wild foliage on either side of me. Free and untended in the woods a few threes had grown straight and tall, but most trees had been choked by wild vines sometime in their youth. Soon after the tall skinny saplings died, the vines were also dead, leaving behind an eerie scene. After a couple of weeks I began to take joy in the healthy trees in the park and on people’s lawns on my way home. They had the benefit of care and pruning. They could reach towards the sky each day, and provide shade for others. This answered my question…”Why had I given up freedom to be curtailed by the Church?” Because we all need pruning to reach our highest and provide shade for others.
I love your writings, always providing new ways to look at life and prayer. How can I receive information on your next small group?
Vinita, I love this reflection and plan on adding prayer to my walks around our deck. I also remember that scientists have found, through research, that just LOOKING at a picture of a green plant or a green forest on one’s iPhone can relax one deeply. If you can’t get out or touch a plant, you an call up a picture of the green outside on your phone and use that as a prayer starter.
Today I celebrate my 52nd birthday and this thought on prayer has been on my heart and mind for the past few months, you hit the nail on the head when you wrote;
“We develop the attitude that prayer is supposed to be something in the mind and heart, a spiritual quality hard to define and somewhat elusive to experience.”
We and I speak for myself have to take prayer as a priority an not a secondary action.
Vinita your past reflections have been spot on!
And yes, there is nothing like nature and seeking the Lord in prayer.
I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts on the reading. I was so sympatico with all you said. I find a spot on my balcony that overlooks the sea and say my prayers or do my spiritual readings. I try to talk to God each day thanking him for all his goodness in my life and for creating such a beautiful world. Seeing the clouds move slowly across the sky I feel there is a God . The blue waters of the sea, the birds that come tweeting on my balcony, the blooming, flowering poui trees all remind me of his goodness despite the problems in our world today.
I feel so privileged now that I’ve met you at the Princeton conference to read your writing here and actually hear your voice speaking. Was just going over my notes and am very thankful for all you shared. (I’m the woman who came up to you and said I also had experienced forgiveness for my mother through the writing exercise)
I remember you, Julia! And I’m glad you’ve visited our site. So grateful that you shared with me about your forgiveness experience. Keep on praying and writing! Peace–Vinita
This is a wonderful reflection especially since we just celebrated 2 yrs of Pope Francis’
Encyclical that encourages us to practice exactly what you are saying. Since The Book Of Creation is God’s first Word to us, according to St Bonaventure, praying with it will surely help us be more aware of God’s presence and lead us to deeper prayer.