my praxis of prayer

by Kelley

vigil one

“I’ll pray for you.” We say it earnestly to convey solidarity. But sometimes, too many times, we simply say it and move on. The phrase becomes another cliché we keep on hand. But the promised prayer never happens.

I’m prone to forget promised prayers if I don’t somehow incarnate the intention. If I want to be true, I must make my prayers tangible. Moving mysterious prayers into time and space with objects I can see, touch, even smell help me remember to pray. My good intentions gain some gravity, my prayers some levity.

I imagine this is part of the rational behind prayer beads and rosaries – the prayers can be felt in our hands as the strand wraps round our fingers, beads and knuckles pressed together in supplication. It’s not about counting prayers, but remembering to pray them.

When a beloved friend passed away after a long illness I wanted to remember him well. I wanted his leaving to linger. So I put his framed picture on my kitchen counter next to my cutting board. I put a nosegay of rosemary, the herb of remembrance, in a julep cup next to his smile. Every time I sliced morning bread or a crisp apple to snack on I saw his countenance – remembering. When I made dinner I’d chop some rosemary and add to the meal. The aroma, the taste, it all spoke of his presence in our life. And for months after the photo was put away, I couldn’t smell rosemary without him coming to mind.

My close friend told me she was heading off to Spain to teach English. An entire year of missing her, a year I wanted to keep her in my prayers since I couldn’t keep her close. So I made a prayer covenant – for that year I would only use Spanish olive oil. Each time I reached for a new bottle of olive oil, seeing the Spanish label, I’d think of her. I’d say a prayer for her the rest of the way down the grocery aisle. Sometimes while cooking, the oil circling the pan glistened with heat and, funny as it may seem, I’d imagine the sun sparking on the Mediterranean. Another prayer would ascend.

When she sent me an email telling me she decided to stay on another year…well, I knew it would be another year of Spanish olive oil. But something so common in my kitchen kept her near and my prayers constant.

vigil two

vigil lastvigil three


More recently I remember a friend traveling to Haiti. As we sat side by side in a café she asked me to pray for her as she traveled away from home, her trio of tinies and into the unknown of the place and the poverty. I wanted to keep my promise – so I bought a tall slender vigil candle.

I lit it the morning she left Canada. And each day as I moved in and out of the kitchen I’d see the flickering light calling me to pray. My counter became altar – where sandwiches were made and school lunches packed, onions chopped, pesto and tomato jam made, then cooled. All alongside the glowing candle that kept her near and reminded me to offer promised prayers.

I only blew it out the night she returned home, safely reunited with her family. Now what remains of that candle sits beside my icons, a reminder of a vigil kept and the Spirit that moved her to build a school in Haiti.

My praxis of prayer has to be concrete as rosemary, olive oil and burning candles or I’ll forget my own promises. I embody my prayers to rescue them from becoming a cliché – to keep them flickering and active and able to move mountains.

32 Responses to “my praxis of prayer”

  1. Melanie @ M&M January 23, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    This is stunningly beautiful and so simple. What a wonderful idea. I am going to embrace this and share with others. Thank you so much!

  2. Addie Zierman January 23, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Love, love, love this Kelley. Thanks for the beautiful way you bring together practical and mystical here.

  3. Christiana January 23, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    What an excellently practical way of remembering to pray. I struggle with this too…wanting so much to keep my promises of prayer to friends and loved ones and then going about my day with forgetfulness. I love this phrase about remembering to pray, “incarnate the intention.”
    I find that writing it down on my mirror in the morning helps some but I just might use the candle idea.
    And what a precious reminder of your friend who passed away. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Gary Ware January 23, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    What an impressive and lasting activity!

  5. Shae January 23, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    This is so beautiful. I have been challenged by this but have not ever found the words to express my discontent. Thank you.

  6. Debbie Nance January 23, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    What a blessing to me today! I feel led to use the vigil candle to remind me to pray for those I promise to pray for their specific needs. For this Southern Baptist raised girl to even consider having a vigil prayer candle in her home is a big step beyond the voodoo of old rules and regulations that had nothting to do with my faith. Thank you!

    • Kelley Nikondeha January 23, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      See them as simple reminders, ways we keep our promises to pray. The ‘magic’ isn’t in the candles, they don’t pray for us! They just quietly flicker and gently remind us to intercede for those we love. So glad you use them, too!

  7. Sarah Bessey January 23, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Good gracious, woman. So thankful for you in my life.

  8. Jeanette Linley January 23, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    What a wonderful way to remember the prayer promises we make!
    I promised myself that anytime a friend asked me to pray, I would stop what I was doing and simply pray with them at that moment. While this works for the immediate, I need to remind myself to continue praying, even after leaving their presence. Writing their names in a prayer journal works, but I’d also like reminders as I go through my day. So I’ll be incorporating “visuals” that tie me to each person’s request.

    This is a blessing.

    • Kelley January 23, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      Jeanette, the visuals do help me. Sometimes even stirring sugar in my tea becomes a prayer time for someone or wearing a certain necklace for a week to remember them and carry them round my neck… they may seem like silly gestures but each helps me keep my word and pray, so what if I look foolish, right!

  9. Elizabeth Esther January 23, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    This is beautiful, Kelley and so very true. We have bodies, we are not disembodied spirits. Incarnating our intentions pays honor to that truth and helps us remember. Yes, this is why I use my Rosary beads because it makes the prayer tangible, something I can feel and remember. Thank you for this beautiful piece!

    • Abby Norman January 23, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      Question that may be weird. I am not Catholic, but I have been asking God how to pray recently and I think this may be my answer. This praying concrete things. Is it crazy for me to be drawn to the rosary? Is it disrespectful to Catholics if I am not one and want to pray the rosary? How would I go about learning how to do that? Where does one get a rosary?

      • Kelley January 23, 2013 at 9:42 am #

        Abby, anyone can hold those rosary beads and pray, in my opinion. Catholics will use them as a prompt to pray certain prayers – Hail Mary and the Our Father. But I imagine if you’re drawn to them as a tool to remind you to pray, you can use to pray as you wish. I got my rosary on amazon because there isn’t a Catholic bookstore nearby, so you can try there.
        They do also sell books on how to pray the rosary according to the Catholic tradition, if you are interested in knowing more.

        I think it isn’t so much how we pray but that we pray. So I hope you can find ways to make it concrete for you. I’ve found it keeps me more faithful and prayerful! Blessings, Abby.

  10. Caris Adel January 23, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    I love this idea. So beautiful, and what a faithful friend you are!

  11. eil1een January 23, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    What a great idea! I hesitate saying “I’ll pray for you” unless I know for darn sure that I will remember to do it. Such a tangible way to help us remember. Thanks

  12. Jill Byard January 23, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    I loved these tangible reminders to prayer. It seems they turned into beautiful little treasures as you kept your promise to pray.

  13. Christie Tarman January 23, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I’m LOVING the themes, frequency and length of your posts… you inspire me as I prepare for my own blog-to-be. This post reminded me that I am not alone in my forgetfulness, and that my rituals for “tactile praying” are in community vs. isolation. Today, as volunteers tally results from the bi-annual vulnerability index survey (of homeless individuals in Santa Barbara County), I wear a necklace fashioned with a stone pendant, a piece of wire-wrapped artistry that came as a gift from a man on the streets. It bears the symbol of a hawk, carrying my prayer for wings for those struggling to fly into recovery. Today I carry my wallet in an over-the-shoulder bag of Bhutanese weave, remembering my dear friend Karma(who is truly a younger brother to me), as he navigates life with his new wife in Bhutan. I desire to visit them, and other dear friends living and/or working abroad (including you and Claude!), so I’ve combined these requests to God with my combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that I use for computer related sign-ins… my little response of linking my everyday tasks into the the age-old act of thanksgiving and supplication…

    • Kelley January 23, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      Love how you embody your prayers, too! And Karma got married – wow! You know Amahoro Gathering is in Uganda this year… you and Jason are so welcome. And I agree, great to be in community as we pray in practical, everyday ways. So honored we are in this together, Christie!

  14. Diana Trautwein January 23, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Love this, Kelley – so very practical and tangible. . . sacramental, even. I’m learning more about prayer since my retirement, maybe I’ll write about that soon. More images, fewer words; praying while walking and while sitting in silence — all of it much less regimented than at times in my past life. And infinitely more real.

  15. Jessica January 23, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    That is perfection.

  16. Gina January 23, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Beautiful and practical.

    I’ve often hesistated to state that I would pray for someone because I know my forgetful nature. And now I’ve taken to creating reminders on my phone. But I love the visual aspect you share, and how the reminders of prayer engage all your senses. Thank you for sharing this encouragment.

    • Kelley January 23, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Prayer and beauty seem to go hand in hand, right? Beautiful aromas, sights and such lead us into the beauty of prayer!

  17. Renee January 23, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Thank you for such inspiring PRACTICAL advice!! I really struggle with keeping those promises to pray, and then the guilt of forgetting. This is good stuff. I’m going to start today with a prayer already on my heart, now what should I use as a reminder? Gonna pray about that! :-)
    Yay! Thank you!

  18. veronicah rose January 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Such practical advice. Lately I’ve been struggling to make the time for this, though prayer is one of my ‘spiritual gifts’. You’ve given me a hunger to get back to that, and to try something new- tangible reminders. Thank you.

  19. HopefulLeigh January 23, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    It is not an exaggeration to say you just might have revolutionized my prayer life. So much goodness here, Kelley.

  20. Curtis Huber January 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm #


    Thanks for sharing your practical prayer reminders. I will now be thinking about how to incorporate something similar into my daily life.

  21. Laura @ Mothering Spirit January 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Gorgeous writing and an even more beautiful idea…I love the practical, earthy, hands-on experience of this prayer practice and need to incorporate more tangible reminders like this into my prayer. So Incarnational!

  22. Natalie January 24, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    This is beautiful. Mixing creativity with intention. Love it.

  23. Sonja Lange January 26, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    This is beautiful and the way you wrote it is magical. I am Catholic and have always found using tactile things a way of making my prayers concrete. I made a wall of photographs opposite the foot of my bed so I see the people I live and pray for last before I go to sleep. I love the idea of changing something I use or carrying something with me to help me keep someone in my thoughts.
    After reading the comments to this piece I can see you have an amazing group of women around you. I plan to spend more time here myself after reading this and your How We Met. Just really good stuff.


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