There’s something to be said about the stillness of the morning, those moments before the sunrise when the whole world seems still. There’s something to be said for praying during that time, too, when the whole world is still and there’s no one calling us, no distractions to be had. There’s only God.
I learned about the secret of praying in the morning while sitting in a New York apartment talking with Juanita Morales, OP, a Dominican Sister of Hope. Sister Juanita came to the United States from Puerto Rico to enter the convent in 1957, but she had been building her prayer life before that. When she was just a child, Sister Juanita would sit with her mother in the backyard and relish silence. Looking back, she realizes that was quality time with her Creator.
As I quickly learned, Sister Juanita’s prayer secrets aren’t only for vowed sisters: you can connect with God throughout the day –and build a stronger prayer life on the whole– no matter what your vocation is. Here are six easy ways to start.
1. Commit to Silence.
Sister Juanita wakes up at 4:30 am everyday in order to ensure that she can pray in darkness and complete silence.
By choosing a time when your neighbors/kids/friends aren’t up and your phone won’t ring, you are guaranteed peace and quiet that you might not get at other times during the day. Moreover, turning off the lights can be an extra help.
“I like to pray in the dark always,” Sister Juanita shares. “To be quiet with your God, it’s just neat. I enjoy that.”
2.Discipline Yourself to Stick with It
Once you’ve begun to get into the groove of prayer, it takes discipline to keep up the habit. It is crucial to assign yourself a specific time everyday to pray, and to honor that time commitment. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a long stretch. Five minutes is a good starting point; you can always increase the length of prayer from there.
3. Keep a Journal
Journaling daily helps to track progress in your spiritual life, and to identify patterns that can help inform prayer. Journaling might seem daunting, but you don’t have to start out with a blank slate.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Include Movement
Although Sister sets aside time to pray every morning in stillness, she follows it with tai chi soon after. Whether it’s prayerful yoga or a slow walk, consider how you might use movement to connect with Him.
Prayer shouldn’t only be done while doing something else. Yet, multitasking helps to stay connected to God throughout the day, even while doing seemingly menial tasks like cooking or driving.
“When I’m cooking, I’m praying for the people who have farms and till the earth, and those who get the goods to me, and the stores. I pray for all those people,” Sister says. How can you incorporate prayer into daily tasks?
6. Start Now.
Certainly, there are steps we can take to help us focus more on prayer. Yet, like any good habit, the only sure way to improve your prayer life is to embark on the task. Whether you’re praying for others, praying with your body, praying in stillness or praying in the dark, the important part is that you pray.
As with all good habits, there’s never a better time than right now.
We spoke with Gina, the writer for this post in regards to some questions in the combox:
I have talked with Sister Juanita and a few other sisters about this, and they say the following:
While yoga, tai chi, and Richard Rohr are condemned by some writers, they are not condemned by the magisterium of the Church. About yoga and tai chi: Saint Dominic used nine body movements to focus his prayer. In the tradition of Saint Dominic, bodily movement is very important to prayer for modern-day Dominicans.
Sister Juanita prays for two hours each morning, and this prayer includes yoga and tai chi chih. (Tai chi chih is a form of tai chi, which can also be known as Joy through Movement.) This bodily prayer takes place alone in her home and is directed at God the Father. As she suggests in the article, Sister finds that this movement deepens her Christian spirituality and is fully in line with her Catholic beliefs. This is not the only way that she prays, but Sister finds that it is one valuable way of many.
Gina Ciliberto is the Digital Media Journalist for the Dominican Sisters of Hope: 160+ Catholic Sisters who live hope in fifteen states and Puerto Rico. More about the Sisters’ lives and ministries at www.ophope.org.