Prayer: Food for the Soul



 This day I shall let

the hills embrace me,

the trees comfort me,

the waves wash over me.

This day I shall let the sap rise within me

and unfolding

dance the music of the cosmos.

–       W.L. Wallace


Below, you will find some creative ways to practice what is known
as Discursive Prayer.

 A retired policeman told me he lets car and truck license plates draw him into prayer. “If I see a ‘J’, I think of Jesus; ‘G’, God; ‘HS’, Holy Spirit; ‘M’, Mary, and so on. When I was on the Force, I had to check for stolen cars, so this kind of prayer is natural for me.” This method of prayer can be practiced in any religion.

My friend, Frank, who was a teacher and a high school principal, shared how one afternoon as he relaxed in his home office, he began looking at the various objects he had collected over the years: “As I looked at each, I thought of how they came into my life. If it came from someone as a gift, I found myself praying for that person; if it stirred a pleasant or sorrowful memory, I thanked God for the experience; if the gift came from my wife, I would spend some extra time thanking her in my heart. It was a completely unexpected time of reflection and very enjoyable.”

 I have had the good fortune to have lived in a variety of geographical areas: cities, farmland, desert, and near laks


and rivers. In each, I have found ways to pray. I have also given retreats in more than one country besides my own U.S. – Canada, Ireland, South Africa, and Trinidad. It was on one of my trips to Ireland that I learned how to pray in nature. It is a method that combines contemplative and discursive prayer.

Here is the process:

Take a leisurely, quiet stroll. Try not to analyze what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling. If you feel inclined to sit or lie down on the ground, do so. As you walk, or sit, be aware of the sights and sounds, even of the silence (if it is so) around you.

 Let some natural object choose you, anything which you can hold in your hand that exists in its natural state: a leaf, a branch, a rock, flower, weed, pine needle, feather, seashell, etc.

 Reverently begin to explore your object with your fingers. Feel its texture, be aware of how heavy or light it is. Pass it across your ear and listen to its sound. Draw it close to your nose and detect its scent. If it is safe, touch it to your lips and, if you wish, taste it with the tip of your tongue.

Moving a bit into the analytical, be the object in your imagination. What are you saying to God as the object? A prayer perhaps of awe, of praise, of gratitude. What is God saying to you?

 Is the object saying anything to you about yourself? 

About your life?

About the Creator?

Say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for this time.

Max Oliva, SJ worked in Las Vegas for six years. The only Jesuit in the state of Nevada, his main ministry was called “Ethics In The Marketplace.” Now in Spokane, he has a continued involvement in Las Vegas, albeit on a part-time basis. His web site is found here -

  • Margaret Powell
    Posted at 12:33h, 21 July Reply

    This reflection brings me back to the many retreats you directed for our small San Diego group. I would love to experience another one. We always “hugged trees”. You are missed!

  • Peter+Bisson
    Posted at 21:15h, 21 July Reply

    Thank you Max!

  • Friederika Priemer
    Posted at 11:13h, 22 July Reply

    Dear Fr. Max Oliva, Thank you ever so much for your great “instruction” – I shall try and follow it during my next walk. I will then definitely think of and pray for you! Blessings from Cologne/Germany.

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