What is Prayer?

Do you know exactly what a prayer is?

My daughter, who is four and a half (the “and a half” is crucial!), has a simple answer: prayer is talking to God. Duh, mom.

But how? When? With whom? Using words? Or silence? Or stillness?


Do you pray by walking or sitting or standing? Kneeling or dancing?

When you need something? Are grateful? Angry? Sad? Overwhelmed? Filled with joy?


Do you know exactly what a prayer is?


Poet Mary Oliver reflects on this question in her poem The Summer Day. She doesn’t know exactly what a prayer is. What she does know how to do is pay attention.

As we move through the end of summer, I return to her poem, one that speaks to my soul anew every year: a reminder that God is everywhere. And if God is everywhere, with us through all that there is, and was, and ever will be--then YES. Prayer is silent and loud. Still and moving. Angry and joyful and everywhere in between. Talking and listening. Being.

Paying Attention.

I invite you to join me as I try my hardest to pay attention to God’s world, filled with joy and pain and everything in between, for the rest of this season. Pay attention to life. We just might find ourselves paying attention to our own lives in its midst, wild and precious as they may be. And somewhere along the way, we might find ourselves in prayer….

The Summer Day


By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?


Kate FloydComment