Praying in Strange Places

An Ignatian Prayer Adventure online retreat

This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Two of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

I have been traveling this week, eating and sleeping—and praying—in strange places. I spent the last few days at an exuberant and delightfully chaotic science conference. People struggled to capture what was happening, scribbling notes like mad in pocket notebooks, snapping photos, and recording videos. The strands of conversations wove back and forth, but there was no time to stand back to see the emerging pattern.

On the last day I took a shortcut through an empty auditorium. I found myself wanting to sit down, take out my notes, project the conference Twitter stream up on the giant screen, and in the silence try to make some sense of it all.

Tonight, as I pulled my prayer journal from my travel bag, and settled once again into the quiet stillness of my attic study to pray, I felt that same desire. It’s just over a week since I embarked on this adventure with God. Can I step back and see where I’ve been, look for patterns that might be emerging?

I sipped my tea and skimmed through the notes I had jotted after each time of prayer, asking God to look over my shoulder with me, and help me pull out the strands that we felt were important. I made a few notes: the couple of words that came up again and again, the point of reflection that I struggled with all week.

Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how disconcerting I found all the shifting around I was doing. I prayed in airport waiting areas (twice!), at midnight on the 14th floor of a hotel—in the middle of a tornado watch, glass windows shivering in the wind—and at home, awash in an afternoon’s sunlight. I wanted these weeks of prayer to have a comfortable rhythm to them, a steady discipline of time and place, and yet I couldn’t seem to find it.

God was not dismayed, gently pointing out that the shifts in retreat were making me more aware of who he was for me. My rock, my stronghold, that voice that I hasten to hear. Not just in my prayer space, not just at nine in the evening, but, as Psalm 121 sings so clearly, at every moment: “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Notice, God says, how you are learning to set down roots of prayer no matter where—or when—you find yourself. Notice that I am here. Always.


  1. I love this reflection. I have to travel everywhere to do theatre and sometimes feel myself getting quite fussy as my morning and evening prayer routine is disrupted, disjointed, discombobulated. This reminds me to be grateful that God is there every single step I take. Thank you!

  2. It just hit me while reading this 9th day reflection that the evil spirit is actively pulling me away from the peace, serenity, and joy that I’d been deliciously savoring during the days and weeks prior to this 31 days of Ignatian retreat. It had been difficult focusing on my daily tasks, my brain felt scattered all over the place, I’m so distracted, and no matter how hard I try to rein in my thoughts, I just couldn’t. Suddenly, I sit in front of my computer on this 9th day, and St. Ignatius’ discernment of spirits comes alive. I offer my gratitude and praise to God and His faithful servant, St. Ignatius, all the saints in Heaven, including my parents and sister in His bosom.

  3. I often worry that I’m not able to pray at the scheduled time, especially at night. I often pray in the car on my way to work and on my way home or elsewhere. I’m fortunate that someone drives for me. So the car becomes my temple, and I have so much to be thankful for. I also pray when there is waiting time in the airports.

  4. Seeing a bud of a tree and the leaf flowing like straw in the field, touching a child crying in despair of losing her toy, and a daily opening of my place in searching to my Ignatian is an examine, a prayer to see God in every way I can. Thank you iggy for making my day.

  5. Thank you Michelle. As one who struggles with time and place and feeling very distracted at times, I found this to be very healing for me. I am following along on my own path, trying to get where I want to go. I am not sure where yet, but moving along.

    • Distractions find us all, I think! When I was writing this, I thought of the cartoon from Coffee with Jesus I linked to above and imagined Jesus saying, I’m here, even in the chaos….

  6. This is so amazing. I just now read you post immediately after sending in my next guest post for People for Others about my experience this past weekend praying in a strange place.
    I certainly understand the feelings about which you speak. I also like the comment from Cathy about the tender roots and their fragility. The roots of your Lenten journey are still tiny and tender and fragile but I can tell by your words that they will be deeply rooted over time. Enjoy the journey!
    Cathy, Where in North Florida are you?

  7. ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ I imagine Jesus felt a bit like you at times, Michelle: praying in the strange places and situations he encountered and perhaps struggling to make space to connect deeply with his Father without the support of a comforting ‘nest’. I have sometimes found, when despite my best efforts, I’ve had no time to pray in the morning, that the Lord will show His face to me in some beautiful way – almost as if to remind me ‘this is my free gift to you, you haven’t had to earn it, I appreciate your efforts when you make them but all is free gift’.

    • What a gift, and what a gift to be able to recognize it as such!
      And yes, there is something about returning to our “nests” or perhaps “under God’s pinions” that certainly grounds our prayer (sorry, that’s a pretty mixed metaphor!)…

  8. Michelle, this is a beautiful teaching – God meets us wherever and whenever but we are the ones who like the routine of our own special place and time. I need to be open to snatching moments with God whenever there is the opportunity. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. The spring is coming here in north Florida, even as we are having one of our coldest snaps yet. And the tender roots, gentles greening, remind me of what you are talking about with your “roots of prayer” …. what may seem tender, and new and even fragile to my eye is just the beginning of a fruitful presence to God.
    My rock, my stronghold.

    • I had not thought about the fragility of that early growth, and how those roots are a source of nourishment and safety for all that will bloom.
      Time to take a walk in my actual garden and see what might be sprouting – it could be another spot to pray.


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