Contributor: Cristin Smith
Photographer: Sarah Shreves
When we think of activities like prayer, we often visualize the dark, hallowed space of a chapel or imagine kneeling bedside in a quiet room, alone. But, contrary to these visuals that we so often see, prayer doesn’t have to be such quiet, somber activity.
Prayer can also involve movement. It doesn’t have to be stationary. Invite yourself to partake in the physical aspects of prayer.
Throughout history, prayer has been expressed in many forms, some quiet and somber but some allow you to incorporate movement. Some of the most popular forms of prayer throughout history are counting prayer, using a prayer wheel, labyrinth walking and taking pilgrimages.
- Counting prayer has been a Catholic tradition for centuries and is demonstrated through the use of Rosary beads. This form of prayer can also be found in Hinduism through the use of mala beads. Counting prayer is an interactive experience that can be utilized for more meditative or repetitive styles of prayer. The process of using these beads moves us from having eyes closed in our bedroom to eyes open and interacting with something.
- In Buddhism, prayer wheels are used as a form of prayer. These cylindrical wheels are made of wood, metal or stone and are spun on a spindle. Spinning the wheel has the same effect as orally recited prayers, according to Buddhist tradition. While spinning the wheel, one also recites mantras or prayers to create a spiritual energy of peace and drive out negativity.
- Labyrinth walking can lead us to a time of contemplative prayer. A labyrinth is a maze-like structure that features paths, which come together at the center. The center of a labyrinth can represent God and the path can represent a faith journey. You can find labyrinths in several ancient churches in Europe, including the Chartres Cathedral in France. These labyrinths are taken from ancient mystical traditions. People often take pilgrimages to these churches and walk the labyrinths while praying as part of their pilgrimage.
- Pilgrimages are popular in several of the major world religions today. A pilgrimage focuses on the long-term journey of a spiritual experience and usually ends at a sacred spot. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage taken by Christians and is also known as "the way of St. James." There are several routes one can take on this pilgrimage, some of which pass through holy sites in Jerusalem and Rome and end at the shrine of St. James the Great in Galicia, Spain. Pilgrimages provide a physical path to walk and translate the spiritual journey into a physical one while providing the pilgrim with historical context to their faith tradition.
Incorporating movement into your prayer practice doesn’t have to be limited to a labyrinth, wheel, beads or pilgrimage and can be as simple as walking outside while praying. A wonderful way to practice walking prayer while experiencing the current season is to take a walk in nature, getting fresh air into your lungs and reconnecting with yourself, the Divine and the world around you.