Even on a good day, prayer as well as getting outside for some exercise and fresh air are absolutely essential for staying healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is especially the case now that we’re living in a time of pandemic where constant uncertainty and new difficulties are parts of our daily lives.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that, on the one hand, “prayer is a vital necessity,” (CCC 2744) and that “prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (2745). Not only is prayer an integral part of our lives in general, but by nature it ought to be an inseparable part of who we are as Christians.
So how can we incorporate prayer into our daily lives? One way is by making our time outside in nature a time of prayer. Hiking is still allowed in most states, despite stay-at-home orders -- and even if it’s not allowed where you live, it’s easy to make an outdoor walk around the neighborhood a time of prayer as well.
Prayer & Hiking
First and foremost, what is prayer? St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” To paraphrase the Catechism, prayer is when our longing for God encounters God’s longing for us (2560).
Prayer can be vocal or mental, reciting common prayers we’ve memorized out loud or in our minds. It can be meditative, utilizing something like the mysteries of the rosary or Scripture to direct our focus. Or it can be contemplative, which emphasizes encountering God in silence and listening to what He is saying to us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said that, “The fruit of silence is prayer.” Silence can help us listen to God’s voice in our lives and hear Him speaking to us through contemplation. This is why hiking is the perfect time to turn to prayer. Leave the headphones at home and embrace the silence you find while hiking -- hearing only the breeze rustling the trees and birds chirping as you walk -- and you’ll find it’s easy to let this silence take you to a place of active prayer.
Prayer while hiking is also beneficial for people who may find it difficult to sit still, focused on prayer, for long periods of time. But active prayer, whether you’re praying while walking, exercising, hiking, or even working, is prayer just the same.
Making your next hike a time of prayer is the perfect time to appreciate nature and God’s creation and let it become for you an experience of adoration. We can adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration but being out in the beauty of His creation of the natural world can also move us to adore His majesty and creativity.
Specific Prayers to Try on Your Next Hike
Below are a few different prayers that are conducive to active prayer. Try out one or two -- you may ultimately find yourself particularly drawn to one type of prayer over another.
- Conversational prayer: This type of prayer is just as it sounds: talk to Jesus as you would a friend (because He is your closest friend!). Speak to Him about your struggles and fears, worries and anxieties, joys and thankfulness, and surrender everything you’re struggling with to His providence. Speaking candidly to the Lord will not only give you peace, but will also in the long run give you clarity and confidence knowing that you’ve turned over your struggles to God.
- Journaling: Journaling is also a way you can let your prayer be conversational, but you may prefer to write down your thoughts rather than speak them out loud or to yourself. Bring a notebook and pen with you on your next hike, find a nice shady tree or a park bench, and let your journaling be a prayer. Write as if you’re speaking to the Lord about whatever is on your heart, or choose a particular piece of Scripture to meditate and reflect on.
- Pray the rosary: St. Francis de Sales once said that, “the greatest method of praying is to pray the rosary.” Each decade (10 Hail Mary’s) of the rosary leads us through meditation on an aspect of Christ’s life, bringing us closer to the Lord through His Mother, Mary. Not only is Mary a powerful intercessor before her Son, but in the rosary we can also meditate on her example of perfect faith and trust in God, as well as her “yes” to doing what God asked of her in being the mother of Jesus.
- Litanies: Litanies are prayers of petition, and invoke the names of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the saints for their help and intercession. Several of the most common litanies in the Catholic Church are the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. If you’re really ambitious, memorize one of these litanies to pray while you hike. Or print one out so it’s easy to carry with you (or pull it up on your phone) so you can reflect on each title of Mary or Jesus as you say each petition while hiking.
- The Jesus Prayer: This prayer is short, simple, and to the point: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Traditionally, Eastern Christians pray this prayer over and over on a rope (similar to a rosary) with the idea being that this prayer will eventually become automatic and second nature, helping you always keep the name of the Lord on your lips and in your mind as you go about your day. Try repeating this prayer as you hike, meditating on the meaning of each word and keeping your focus on the name of Jesus with each step.
Wander with Purpose
Prayer in all its forms allows us to bring our hopes, anxieties, worries, fears, and thankfulness to the Lord, making ourselves vulnerable before the Creator of the universe so He can heal, console, comfort, guide, and love us. We talk a lot about “wandering with purpose” here at Wanderer Catholic, and the idea of praying while hiking captures this idea perfectly. Wandering with purpose means that we can make our daily activities a prayer when they’re offered to God with sincerity and self-surrender. And this includes a simple hike in the woods or even a walk around the block.