Expand your definition of prayer

If your prayer life is in a rut, try finding new ways to experience play as prayer.
Our Faith

If heaven has a soundtrack, it surely includes the greatest hits of the 1990s. You will not be able to convince this biased Millennial otherwise.

A few friends recently came over to celebrate my 30th birthday. The early evening sun beamed through my window upon their arrival, creating the perfect natural spotlight on the kitchen floor. What else was there to do but crank some childhood favorites and take center stage?

The dancing continued long after the spotlight set. Heads bobbed to the beats of groups like Destiny’s Child and *NSYNC. Shoulders shimmied between bites of cake. As I twirled about toward the end of the night, a needed realization hit me: This, too, is prayer.

My prayer life felt out of sorts for most of the COVID-19 pandemic. As routines changed by the day, I struggled to bring the same focus to practices like lectio divina and Liturgy of the Hours that once had grounded me. Anxiety riddled moments of contemplation. I stared blankly at the open Bible on my lap. I was sure Mary and Elizabeth had profound wisdom to share, but my mind couldn’t let go of the nagging worry that my cloth masks wouldn’t stand a chance against the Delta variant.


I heard similar struggles from friends as the pandemic wore on: “I can’t remember the last time I picked up my morning devotional.” “Chasing kids all day leaves me too exhausted to say a rosary before bed.” “It’s hard to get excited about watching Mass online by myself.”

We could always count on these traditional prayer practices to mediate our relationships with God. Surely there will come a time when we regularly engage these practices again.

But the night of dancing left me wondering: What would happen if we expanded our definitions of prayer? How might we encounter God in new ways by experiencing play as prayer?

In their book, 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (Broadleaf Books), Heidi Barr and Ellie Roscher introduce small, everyday practices meant to open people to growth and renewal. Two of my favorite practices are lie on the grass and watch the clouds go by and let your favorite treat dissolve in your mouth and really savor it. Although they’re not explicitly religious, I find in these moments of play an invitation to slow down and encounter the divine in the world around me.


I want to be intentional about adding tiny moments of play to my prayer practices this Lent. The 40 days leading up to Easter tend to be a somber season as we journey with Jesus to his suffering and death on the cross. Yet Lent is also a time of joyful anticipation.

We know what comes next. Beaten and betrayed, the Son of God lays dead in the tomb only to rise again on the third day. The church sings out with delight on Easter morning: Our God is not dead—he’s alive! He’s alive!

Realties that seem to conflict mark Christianity. We are a faith of suffering and surviving, of dying and rising, of already and still to come. Taken together, the arc of the Christian narrative always bends toward joy.

So why not pray like it? Dance with dear friends. Gaze up at the sky. Savor each bite of a warm cookie. Play in ways that give glory and praise to our God.


This, too, is prayer. 

This article also appears in the March 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 3, page 7). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Pexels/cottonbro


About the author

Jessie Bazan

Jessie Bazan helps Christians explore their life callings in her work with the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. She is editor and coauthor of Dear Joan Chittister: Conversations with Women in the Church (Twenty-Third Publications).

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