Continuing our series on developing a daily prayer regimen, an important aspect of personal prayer is location. What I have discovered is that the location of our prayer greatly affects our ability to open our hearts to God. Personally I pray better in some places than others and so it is important to identify key characteristics that can help foster our prayer life in these different locations.
“The Little Oratory”
The place of our prayer is called our “oratory.” The word “oratory” comes from the Latin word “orare,” meaning “to pray” and is most commonly used to reference a small chapel.
The most typical location for a lay-person to pray in is the home. The average American does not live across the street from a church or chapel and does not have the luxury of stopping by the church on a daily basis. This means that personal prayer is most often done in the home.
Unfortunately, praying in the home or “the Little Oratory,” can be challenging. The ability to have a dedicated room for prayer is extremely rare, which means that prayer usually happens in the bedroom or living room.
The primary challenges of praying at home are staying focused and getting into a disposition of prayer. It is not easy to pray when you sit down on the couch and stare at the turned-off TV or look around and see all the children’s toys scattered about the floor.
That is why it is important to dedicate a part of your home, apartment or room for prayer. This is most often called a “prayer corner.” Even the Catechism recommends this practice,
“For personal prayer, this can be a “prayer corner” with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common.” (CCC 1691, emphasis added)
Your “prayer corner” can physically be a corner in one of your rooms or simply be a place that is somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of the house. In reality, the options are endless and are only constrained by your own creativity. When planning to dedicate a specific part of your house for prayer, find a way to incorporate these items:
- Home Altar – If you have enough space to dedicate a side-table to prayer, it is beneficial to make it into a “home altar.” What I mean is a place where you can place various items, such as candles and a bible, to remind you of the altar at church. It is even beneficial to use a cloth that covers the table and can be changed according to the color of the current liturgical season.
- Religious Artwork – One important aspect of your prayer corner is to have religious artwork that brings you into a state of prayer. I suggest using one or two pieces of religious artwork or icons that inspire you. Typically a person would place a prominent image of Christ in the center, while putting images of saints on either side to inspire a person to live a life of holiness. Having a prominent image of the Sacred Heart is a great way to foster prayer.
- Candles & Incense – Often neglected is the importance of candles and incense in prayer. In that way, the “smells and bells” of Mass can be extended to the home and help foster a spirit of prayer. Candles are great at keeping a person’s focus and are often associated with meditation.
When planning your “little oratory,” it is important to be deliberate about it. Think of it as way of inviting God into your home. This practice of having a “prayer corner” is a common aspect of the Eastern Catholic Churches and is called an “icon corner.”
If you are interested in more practical ideas as to how to order your “little oratory,” I highly recommend David Clayton’s book The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home. It is a great resource for those seeking an expanded introduction to the idea of a prayer corner.
“The Traveling Oratory”
Besides praying in the home, a great struggle for many of us is praying while on the road. This can be on the subway to work, in a hotel room, or even at a relative’s home during the holidays. We can’t predict what these other places will be like and we can’t expect there to be a “little oratory” wherever we go.
That is why it is beneficial to carry around with us a “traveling oratory” that can help inspire in us an attitude of prayer. This type of oratory can range from a simple crucifix that you carry in your pocket or a set of holy cards that you always have in your prayer book.
Another idea for a “traveling oratory” is a pocket “triptych.” A “triptych” is a work of art divided into three sections. Often these three sections can fold together and when produced into a miniature version, can fit nicely into a pocket. Here is one example of a triptych:
“The Public Oratory”
Last, but not least, it is important to take advantage of the various “public oratories” that are around us. This could be different churches or adoration chapels that we can stop-in to pray. While we will do most of our prayer at home, I will be honest and say the best places of prayer for me are in churches and chapels.
The obvious benefit of “public oratories” is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That is not something we can duplicate at home. Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapels are strewn throughout the country and are amazing havens of prayer.
To supplement our prayer at home, I suggest taking a weekly holy hour (or half-hour) either at an adoration chapel, or simply at an open church. Very few people have the luxury of doing this on a daily basis, so I suggest setting aside time to pray at a “public oratory” at least once a week. Many of my most powerful moments of prayer happened in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
To summarize, we are all human and the location of our prayer does affect how we relate to God. To help facilitate prayer, we should be deliberate and design locations of prayer in our home, take with us “traveling oratories” and frequent public places of prayer whenever we can.
I hope these simple tips will help remove some initial obstacles to conversing with our Lord and listening to the words He wishes to communicate to you.