By Caroljean Willie SC, Ph.D.
Prayer is the thread that can bind families together. The purpose of prayer is to establish a deeper relationship with God and to give us the nourishment we need to live as disciples of Jesus. Expanding prayer, beyond the traditional words and rituals to include all of our senses through creative movement, music, art, nature, and more, can enrich the lives of all family members individually and together.
Following are some suggestions inviting families to pray together in new and creative ways.
• Choose a Favorite Hymn
Quietly listen to the words. Then invite family members to stand and move their bodies in rhythm with the music or create a song prayer with actions to the words of the song.
• Pray With Clay
Invite each person to create something out of the clay that reflects his/her relationship with God. Share with each other.
• Choose a Parable
Jesus used parables with images from the people of his time to illustrate his message about the kingdom of God. However, the images that he used are often not understood in the context of the 21st century reality of our lives. As a family, choose a parable and rewrite it as Jesus might tell it today using the images and experiences that are a part of your family’s reality. Act it out if you feel dramatic.
• Keep a Family Gratitude Journal
Once a week, or whenever possible, invite family members to contribute something for which they are thankful and write it in the journal. Conclude with a prayer in thanksgiving for the many blessings in your lives. At the end of the year review the journal together to see the many ways God has been present to your family during the year.
• Pray the Calendar
Each day God invites us to live lives of love and service. The invitation is always there, but with our busy schedules we often fail to remember to acknowledge God’s call through our daily actions. The calendar prayer invites family members to sit together once a week and decide on a specific action for each day of the week that all commit themselves to. For example, on Monday each family member agrees to do a random act of kindness, on Tuesday to listen to a song that praises God, on Wednesday to take a few minutes to appreciate something beautiful in nature, etc. At the end of the day all can share what they have done to honor their commitment.
• Design a Family Prayer Quilt
Give each person a 9”x9” piece of white cardstock. Within each square draw, paint, or use a computer image or other medium to illustrate a theme you want to include in your prayer. For example, the images in a gratitude quilt should represent those things in life for which you are grateful. The images in a hope quilt should represent things for which you dream – things that give meaning and direction to your lives. Connect the squares by paper punching a hole in the four corners of each square and connect with ribbon or yarn. Hang in a special place.
• Draw a Prayer
Keep a creative Family Journal in a loose leaf binder. This can be an ongoing project. Invite each family member to make a contribution using one of the following suggestions: draw a symbol to represent your relationship with God; make a picture to represent what you think God looks like; design a holy card; choose a scene from Scripture and illustrate it; illustrate a favorite prayer. Be creative and come up with your own ideas and themes.
• Create a Musical Autobiography
A musical autobiography is the story of your relationship to God through music. To create a musical autobiography of your family, make a timeline of approximately ten events or times in the life of your family that reflect both high and low points. Find a song or piece of instrumental music that reflects how your family felt at those times. A few ideas to think about: marriage, the birth of each child, vacation memories, birthdays, etc.
• Pray With Worldly Music
Choose a country or place in the world that your family would like to pray for and find a piece of music from there. Light a candle and sit comfortably, close your eyes and listen to the music. Allow yourselves to feel your connection to the people and land that the music represents. Pray for them. Join your prayer with their prayer for a world in which all may live in peace and harmony. Feel the peace that comes with understanding.
• Observe Nature
Nature provides us with the opportunity to stop for a few minutes to see what is happening right before our eyes. It invites us to sit still and see the mysteries of the visible world – beauty, growth, change, death, new life – and, in clearly seeing the visible, to come to know that which we cannot see. Take a walk as a family in a local park, along a hiking trail, or in your own backyard. Choose a spot and sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Do nothing but look at what is happening in that one spot. Notice the colors, the grass, flowers, twigs, insects, fallen leaves which might be in that spot. At the end of the reflection period share with each other what you have observed. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for the gifts of nature. This prayer might continue another day with a contribution to the family journal or a nature prayer quilt.
• Pray the Psalms
Psalms provide a wonderful model for litanies or hymns of praise for the magnificent gifts of creation. By using the models provided by a number of psalms, we can create our own hymns of praise. Choose one of the following patterns and compose a family psalm of praise in thanksgiving for creation: O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (from Psalm 8) Use this as a refrain and invite family members to add the gifts of creation for which each is grateful in his/her own life. After each contribution repeat the refrain, O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
May these prayer suggestions lead your families to explore new ways of communing with God individually and together. Be adventuresome! Look for God in unexpected places! Look for God in the ordinary places you frequent daily! God is there – beneath you, above you, around you, and within you. Celebrate our wondrous God through words, art, dance, and music. The possibilities are endless because God is infinite!
Caroljean Willie is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati currently serving as the NGO representative at the United Nations in New York for the Sisters of Charity Federation. Her interest in different prayer styles grew out of her cross-cultural experiences in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.