I walked to the prayer garden near my house this morning, recalling the day I discovered it about a year ago when everything in my predictable little life suddenly turned upside down. The details don’t matter. It was just life. Life, with a big Covid cherry on top.
One blustery afternoon, when I was in the thick of it, I took a walk to clear my head. I left the concrete sidewalk along the busy road and headed a different direction across the frosty ground along the train tracks. As my feet kicked through thick crisp leaves, I heard myself let out a long breath I’d been holding for weeks. I closed my eyes briefly and opened them to find myself wandering into a small, elegant prayer garden.
The garden is situated on the edge of the grounds of a large church that wasn’t there when I was growing up. It’s a small area that’s simply, but well-designed. I sat on the cold stone bench, knowing what I needed to do.
There was so much to pray about, but my thoughts blew and swirled around like the dry brown leaves trapped against the garden wall. I settled myself for some serious invocation, but instead focused on inconsequential details in front of me – moss growing on the large center boulder, the patterned brick below my feet, the low curved wall.
In the silence, my attention turned to the sound of the wind shaking copper leaves still clinging to their branches, the distant squawk of geese dotting the gray skies, the rhythmic scratching of a squirrel in a nearby tree.
C’mon, just pray.
I shook my head only to notice the abundance of acorns, hickory nuts, and broken shells scattered at my feet. I scoffed at my spiritual ineptitude as my eyes filled with hot tears that stung in the cold air. A train rumbled down the tracks, just feet away. The clattering of iron on iron came closer and closer, roaring louder and louder in my crowded mind.
Suddenly, I remembered the title of a book by Anne Lamott called Help. Thanks. Wow. In it, the author advocates three simple prayers – one of supplication, one of gratitude, and one of sheer awe.
I walked in a slow circle around the center of the garden, picking up acorns and placing them on stones to help me visualize each individual prayer. Instead of a train wreck of messy thoughts, my prayers were laid out in a neat, comprehensible pattern along the garden wall.
Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow. Help. Thanks. Wow.
The title of Lamott’s book reminded me to keep my prayers in specific, grateful, and humble balance. For every prayer asking for help, there’s another for thanks, and yet another for joyful praise of things like serendipitously stumbling upon a private and holy sanctuary just when it’s needed most.
I walk to the prayer garden nearly every day now. It’s one of my favorite places in the town I call home again. This morning I realized every one of my prayers from last year has been answered.
“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.”
~ 1913 Hymn, In the Garden