When COVID-19 happened, I found myself needing to pray. I was almost crippled with anxiety as the coronavirus spread like wildfire from New York, where I work, to Connecticut, where I live. The thought of getting back on the train or sending my kids to school shook me with fear. I carried so many burdens with me: concerns that my wife, who works as a hospital chaplain, would bring home the virus to us, concerns about how I’d fare as a less-than-eager camp director for my four-year-old twins. I felt stuck, worried and emotionally exhausted. I had to do something to make it through each day as we self-isolated as a family, and, for me, I turned to prayer.
I was raised by my Southern Baptist grandparents, and prayer was once a daily part of life — routine even — but in the years since, it’s been inconsistent. As my wife, a deacon-in-training, has over the years has grown closer to God and deepened her spiritual practice, I’ve found myself criticizing my own lackluster one and my inability to converse with God daily. But the birth of COVID-19 made me hungry for a spiritual practice of my own, wanting more from God while giving myself the time and space to listen to His call to be still and pray.
In an attempt to carve out time for myself, naturally, I went to the ocean. I live less than fifteen minutes from the coast, and the drive there gave me enough time to organize my thoughts. I got to actually sit with my own feelings for those minutes and not wipe the tears away from anyone else’s face but my own. As I drove our minivan towards the salty waters, the crisp air that only the sea breeze can provide helped my emotions begin to settle. By the time I turned into the long drive leading to the expansive water and breathtaking views, I felt a familiar calmness wash over me, physically.
The vastness of the ocean, the smell, the sand, all of it reminded me to pause, to inhale and exhale. The ocean was once just the place I used to take my daughters to nap, but soon became the place I’d want to go first when I felt the need to pray: not for a walk, not for a run, or a long drive, but to clear my head whenever I could get away.
There is almost an immediate release I feel when the water is in sight. I choose a spot, I park and turn off my engine. I inhale and exhale slowly. I turn on my InsightTimer meditation app and I take it all in. I close my eyes and I begin to pray. Silently, I think of all of the things in my life for which I am grateful. This is how I begin my prayer, eyes closed, and showing gratitude. The ocean becomes my church and I the minister, giving myself the time and space to turn over my anxieties and worries without judgment to this body of water.
I remind myself as I rest my head on my pillow each night of all that I am grateful for: my family, love, my health, and my faith journey. Like life, my faith journey has not always been an easy one. But when I go to the ocean, I am free. It takes me as I am, where I am, and for who I am. I owe it nothing yet it gives me everything I need at that moment, just as prayer does. The ocean provides me with a kind of peace and serenity that others may find elsewhere: a hike in the woods, maybe a long walk first thing in the morning, maybe in a journal. “Prayer” shows up differently for everyone, but can be found if you seek it.