Music, Photographs, and Stained Glass: Methods of Prayer

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Elliott.


It seems that most of my prayer each day is a flat-out conversation with God – asking, thanking and sometimes being frustrated. It’s been a rough year with losing loved ones, so I know my prayer has definitely been affected by it – maybe I tend to say things more directly to my loved ones who are with God, asking for their help.

taking photos

Yet I’m aware of at least three things that help me focus my prayer or be more in tune depending on the day. These things are music, photography and stained glass windows.

Prayer through Music
Music is often described as being a way of praying twice. I have participated in the choir in some capacity since I was grade school. I have played flute at mass for over 20 years and it is through the music that I have been able to pray. When I play the flute, many times I will read the words to the music as I’m playing the accompaniment. It helps me focus on what I’m doing and allows me to pray with the songs that others are singing and I can unite my prayer with others. I find the words to the songs comforting and let them say what I need to say for me—sometimes even better than I can say myself. I’ve even tried my hand at writing music and the songs have been used to assist the congregation with prayer on different occasions.

Prayer through Photography
I have always loved to take photographs. Ever since I was little, I would try to take pictures – some of them are more successful than others (with heads cut off if I didn’t have the camera in the right position!)

elliott quoteAs I have gotten older though, the same photographs serve as reflection points for prayer. The prayers can be of gratitude for the opportunity to be in the places where I can take the photographs. It can also be a way to appreciate the beauty of flowers or of sunsets. I’ve taken several photographs of roses or tulips or of other flowers that I look back on and wonder how many different varieties of flowers there are! My favorite picture to take is of sunsets. I’ve always been amazed at the different colors God paints in the sky and taking photographs helps me hold on to that beauty just a little bit longer.

The photographs can be a good reminder of the gifts I’ve been given, especially if they are of family and friends. The photographs help me to recall all who have been placed in my life at different times and I try to find God in each of those experiences. Taking photographs helps to capture the life God has given me.

stained glassPrayer through Stained Glass Windows
Stained glass windows are so beautiful, especially when the sun shines just right through the glass and leaves the room so colorful. I appreciate how each one of them tells a story about the scriptures—and each brings a unique perspective to the same stories. These stained glass windows have helped in my prayer and I’m sure those of others throughout the years. Some windows even have dedications to people that sponsored them and it’s neat to wonder about those who have been honored in that way. It is interesting to me how one can look at the same windows—perhaps in your parish—so many times, yet it can strike you in a different way at certain times.

One of those experiences for me was looking at a particular section of stained glass at St. John’s on Creighton University’s campus. There are several windows that include verses of the Hail Mary. I’ve looked at these a million times. Yet one day, when I was particularly stressed about having to go into a meeting for a difficult conversation with someone, I stopped in the church to say a quick prayer to get me through the time. At that moment I happened to be standing in front of the part of the prayer that said “The Lord is with You,” and for some reason it felt like Mary was telling me that exact thing—as if it wasn’t her prayer that we say millions of times, but that I was supposed to know the Lord was with me, too. It was very powerful to think that maybe that prayer could have been for me. I think it gave me a bit of strength to continue on and have a conversation with someone.

Elizabeth Elliott is a freelance writer in Omaha, Neb., who majored in music and journalism at Creighton University. For over 20 years she has played flute for church-related events and can be heard on the recordings “Days of Yesteryear” by Patrick J. Cullen, and “Spirit & Life” by Tony Ward.


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