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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!

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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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