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Don’t Feel Like Praying? Just head outdoors!

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30 Days with Teresa of Avila (Week 3 of 6)

You should take no notice of the temptation to give up prayer and should thank God for your desire of practicing it.  Be assured that your will wishes to pray and loves to be in God’s presence.  Nature complains at the idea of using self-constraint.  When you feel oppressed, you should move occasionally to some place where you can look at the sky and should walk about for a short time.  This will not break off your prayer, and human frailty must be humored lest nature succumb.  We are seeking God by such means since we take them for His sake, and the soul must be led gently.  – 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, p. 44

Don't Feel Like Praying? Just Head Outdoors

With spring bursting upon us, many are quick to rush outside and enjoy God's creation.  But as much as I love to see the flowering crabapple tree in my front yard when I come and go between errands, I really don't spend much time outdoors.  Given a choice between scrubbing a toilet and weeding a garden, I’m apt to choose the toilet every time. To be honest, I think my husband is a little peeved by this part of my personality.  Not that he doesn’t appreciate clean toilets; but as much as a book illuminates my soul, the great outdoors illuminates his.  And, as often as I try to impassion his heart and mind with a passage from some great book, my husband does his best to lull me outside to experience the glory of nature – step out onto the porch for just a minute, he’ll say.  I have no doubt his years on the farm taught him to breathe sunshine right through his pores and into the deepest recesses of his soul.

Unfortunately, I don’t spend enough time outside to allow the sun to penetrate the deepest level of my being.  It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors.  But, as I often tell my husband, I have things to do!

Truth be told, while I often appease my husband by stepping out onto the porch and agreeing that, yes, it’s beautiful outside, before smiling my “that good enough?” smile,  and marching right back to the kitchen, I have to admit that my insistence on being in the house might be akin to living as Martha while refusing to answer to the Mary within.

Don’t get me wrong.  I try to sit at Christ's feet as Mary did.  In general, a good book has always been my tonic for inspiration and edification.  For prayer and reflection.  Whether a spiritual book like the one we’re reading now, or a great novel, such as War and Peace – anything that demonstrates profound truth with illustrative wonder.

But as much as I love reading, I must admit there can be a little pride involved in the pursuit of sanctity through the written word.  When I read a book, I’ve a sense of accomplishment.  I’m exerting myself.  I’m expanding my mind.  I’m broadening my horizons.  I’m doing something!  (Notice the “I’m” behind every one of those actions?)

But in that mode of doing, doing, doing, over time, the law of diminishing returns sets in, and my soul ceases to expand. Instead, I can actually feel it begin to shrivel.  Aridity sets in.  The words ring hollow and my heart sits empty and forlorn in the darkness of my living room.

For me, prayer can have the same effect over time.  The air grows dry and my heart rings hollow.  I begin to feel the same oppression St. Teresa mentions in the passage above.

At those times the outdoors beckons.  In those moments, I know that a walk is not only good for me but an absolute necessity.

Thank goodness God has blessed us with a mind and a body, knowing that the experiences of both can profoundly affect the fruitfulness of the soul.  Raising my eyes to the great sky above requires nothing of me.  The outdoors happens.  I need only experience it.  I don’t need to do anything to be edified.  While outdoors I can simply inhale the bounty of God’s great goodness.

According to Romans 1:20, “…ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and His everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things…”

How can I walk among the towering trees with their expansive branches spread wide and lifted in praise and not raise heart and mind to God?   How can my eyes behold the beauty of the purple climbing clematis, always seeking a route to its maker, or the ever-blooming azaleas that brighten my garden, without raising heart and mind to God?  How can I smell the sweet scent of lilacs and lavender, or the fragrant dianthus without raising heart and mind to God?

For me heading outside is not a permanent fix, but it is certainly the best medicine for interior dryness.  My advice to others who suffer from the same tendency?  Pack up and take a walk!  It’s amazing what a change of scenery will do for the soul.

Reading Assignment:

Chapters 14-20

Discussion Questions:

1. When you don't feel like praying, what works best for you?

2. Does the outdoors ever stimulate your prayer life?  If so, how?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read More: http://spiritualdirection.com/topics/book-club

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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  • Camila

    2. Does the outdoors ever stimulate your prayer life? If so, how?

    Yes! “When you have thought on the universal beauty of this world, does not its very beauty as it were with one voice answer you, “I made not myself, God made me“?” – St. Augustine (Exposition on Psalm 145)

    I think the reason nature’s beauty can be so consoling, is because it brings us in direct contact with something generously delightful to our senses that can only come from God. Nature doesn’t care who looks and delights in its beauty, in fact, it is totally vulnerable. Its beauty isn’t hidden, but quite the opposite.

    • wendyjoseph

      As a deckhand on cargo ships, I’ve spent many nights at sea. Watching the stars slowly advancing, I am always struck by the majesty God reveals up there. It is beyond mere verbal prayer. Not sure whether to call it meditation or contemplation.

  • Camila

    Also from Day 11, something that I found helpful, was that, “what makes us worthy to pray is not our success in surmounting weakness. Instead, it is always right and just to pray because of the surpassing humility of God who never abandons us” (46).

    I think there is a tendency among some Christians to portray God as the stern judge. Yet, when we look at a crucifix, we don’t see a stern judge, do we? We see a sacrifice of love, a cry of mercy, a total abasement.

  • LSLinda

    Hey Vicki! I totally relate to what you are saying. At a homeschool conference once, Danielle Bean, talking of mothers caring for themselves, said “Go out siiiiiide for 5 minutes.” For a busy mom, grabbing 5 minutes might be hard to do but it truly is food for the soul. As a fellow bookworm who admires the landscaping only as I drive in the garage, I can attest to the fact that when I force myself to go outside, I always find myself talking to God. It is non-spiritual consolation that leads to spiritual consolation, a lifting of the heart to God. I long for time with Him in nature. If given the chance for a vacation, that is where I want to go – to nature. Tell ya what. I’ll go outside for 5 minutes today if you will.

    • Vicki

      It’s a deal:)!

  • stblmc

    We have the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist …Glory to God !!!!!!!
    when I am restless or don’t feel like praying the Omnipresence of God in his creations are waiting for me outside….Just sitting in silence and letting the sounds and sights of nature praise the Lord is rejuvenation to my soul…..

  • Dove – RFaulkner

    When I don’t feel like praying, it works best for me to either read passages in the bible or one of the spiritual books I am reading. I will read a bit of it and contemplate it. As I read 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, it helps to discern what she is saying in a passage, see if it applies to my life, then pray about it – or whisper to God. However, I do find Saint Teresa a bit formidable.

  • Kate

    When I don’t feel like praying I simply ask God who I need to lift up in prayer. Someone, usually several, come to mind. There is so much power in intercession, especially if you ask God to guide you in your prayer. Almost always, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving follow.

  • Clanci45

    I laughed until tears streamed down my face….then I read it to my husband and laughed so hard I could hardly read……because, when I am reading or studying I truly am doing something ( I realized that is what I thought in my head). My husband is continually saying come out and sit on the porch….really look around, you never see anything you just look in one spot, why not sit in the sunshine or go for a walk……..now tell me if you could read this article without cracking up!! I really need to think about the Lord speaking to me through my husband as well as books! I’m sorry I guess I didn’t stick to the question! I am going to try the outside method!

  • Valerie

    I live in a pretty scenic place, so I’m surrounded by beauty and quiet. There are times when I just sit in awe and lose myself pondering the mysteries of God’s great universe. Sometimes, though, I take the beauty of nature for granted. Just looking out the window or sitting on the porch doesn’t have much impact. If, however, I get moving (hiking, biking, fishing – doesn’t matter) I find it almost impossible to keep my mind from being drawn to God. The combination of the great outdoors and getting my blood circulating works every time.

    The other thing that works for me if I don’t feel like praying – I say a Hail Mary or two and then I’m ready. It seems like if I ask the Blessed Mother for help, she’s happy to oblige.

  • bdlaacmm

    I live in the middle of downtown Baltimore, and even in this most extreme of urban environments, you can get the same spiritual benefits of a walk outdoors. We have the same sky, there’s the occasional tree or even a park, birds still fly overhead, and believe it or not, even the occasional weed sprouting up through a crack in the sidewalk can be inspirational.

    • LizEst

      Thanks for your witness…even amidst the difficulties in Baltimore these days. God bless you, bdiaacmm. Prayers for the people of Baltimore…and you as well!

      • bdlaacmm

        Thank you for those words. We’re all still trying to figure this all out here. I personally am so conflicted. On the one hand, I feel embarrassment and even shame for my wonderful, beautiful home town (our nickname of “Charm City” sounds so ironic right now). But on the other hand, there is a growing surge of “Baltimore Strong” feeling – a community bonding in the face of violence and senseless destruction. I fear the worst is yet to come, but there are Good People out there building bridges and healing wounds, even as this continues. I just got home from an evening Mass at my church (Holy Rosary) celebrated for peace in our city. (Had to walk home fast to get indoors before the curfew, with National Guard helicopters circling overhead – surreal!)

        But when this is over, come visit our fair city! There’s none better in these United States.

  • Sista T

    I have not experienced such a thing yet, For I do not pay any attention to the thought of not, but, seek it unceasingly, and look forward to its grace. However, I have recently learned: That He wants me outside that I may come across His will and serve Him through others He puts in my path, and if I don’t go out I just might receive a knock on my door as I did yesterday. Come out of your tent!
    I find the most quiet place best for prayer, I find it difficult to continue to contemplate the mysteries and a focus with others around, so I to must come out.
    However, I have learned to pray, out loud also, and in public, for mercy on souls, and in The Sacrament Chapel.
    Communion with God in prayer is something that is now a must for me or I will be dry or even worse.Yes,the beauty of His Love present in all things makes my heart sing, which too is a prayer to The Lord, I love it, I pray I may never feel less zeal for it but ever more eagerness to seek Him.
    Especially, when I am lacking, ashamed of my behavour, and have failed to do what I should have, I find myself longing for forgiveness, how else but through prayer!

  • Pam

    I have been having a hard time finding a regular time to pray, so this week I started something new. I live on the beautiful southern Oregon coast about 20 minutes away from my work, so what I decided to do was to turn off my car radio (although I love to listen to NPR in the mornings) and focus on the beauty of God’s creation in silence. I pray one decade of the rosary and then just drive, waiting for what God might have to say to me. I don’t try to force prayer, but it comes naturally, and when particular people come to mind, I pray for them.

    Dove-RFaulkner- I’m with you. I’m struggling with getting to know and love St, Teresa. Formidable is a good description for her! But- I keep plugging along, asking for a greater understanding of and connection with her.

    • Pam – if you haven’t listened to any of the Divine Intimacy Radio podcasts on the book yet, it might give you more insight that will help you “get to know and love St. Teresa” as I do. Here’s the first link: http://www.spiritualdirection.com/2015/04/24/30-days-with-teresa-of-avila-reflections-on-days-1-and-2 and the second show will go out tomorrow AM.

    • Patricia

      I began with rule of life and try to stick with it often I feel prayer is dry so I change my posture such as sitting to kneeling from allowing God to move me. How he speaks in scriptures Lectio Divina and in liturgy of hours thru music thru daily events. The rule of life and being a sister guard of the sacred heart gives me balance of prayer listening and enjoying the Lord. Today I got my degrees thru the mail I brought them to the adoration prayer and my prayer today was singing to Jesus thanks. Another day it will be something else’s. Prayer is breath and getting caught up in God I feel I skip a breathe. God makes it easy for us to pray he looks upon me as I gaze into his Eucharistic heart. Prayer can be dance song art work sleep and suffer take joy in the Lord. God meets us where we are

  • A regular time and habit of morning prayer works best for me to start my day with God in mind. I’ve also learned that praying throughout the day is more effective for me than just once in the morning. The more I pray, the more I find that I want to pray because I it fulfills me.
    When I’m struggling to want to pray. What works best for me is to sit quietly, breathe deeply and relax. Then in my mind, I will pray the Lord’s Prayer – slowly in cadence with my breathing. I will inhale and think, “Our Father” and then exhale. Then I will inhale and think “who art”. It takes several minutes. At times, I have to knock out distractions that pop up and just sit in the presence of our Lord.

    • Pam

      Jeff-
      Your suggestion for praying the Lord’s Prayer is a good one! I think I will try it when I’m struggling to pray. Thanks for sharing!

  • MariaJ

    1. When I don’t feel like praying, I just push myself to start with a little. Always glad I did it.
    2. Am a scientist by training and the outside always boosts my prayer life. Most of nature is a huge mystery for scientists. The more we discover the more we realize how little we really know.

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