Unraveling Prayer

Many Ways to Pray: Interview with Desiré Findlay

Published on March 20, 2023

"I would say prayer is as diverse as people are"

What is prayer? How can we pray to God? Desiré Findlay shares her voice on what prayer looks like to her through writing, dance, Lectio Divina and more. Listen in on the conversation as Desiré explains how prayer connects her to Jesus, others and the world. Find inspiration in how you can grow in prayer too.

Please support Desiré by purchasing a beautifully handmade rosary from her Esty shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/adentroYafuera

The following are edited excerpts and outline of the conversation from this podcast interview.

[00:00:11] Desiré, how do you define prayer?

Yeah, I think that for me it’s very simple. Prayer for me is connecting with God, with myself and with others…I don’t even know if that’s my intent but that is always like the result of my prayer.

[00:00:32] Do you feel like it took you years to come to that definition or do you think it was an evolving, conceptualizing that definition?

Yeah, I would say it evolved over time especially because of my experience in formation with the Felician Sisters and just learning a little bit more about what prayer could be and different types of prayer, different styles…learning things like Lectio Divina or you know what meditation and contemplation are. Yeah, those definitely helped open up my understanding of prayer and then over time it’s like “well, it’s basically, this is what I’m doing when I pray.”

[00:01:24] At this moment how does prayer look like for you?

Yeah, I would say because my prayer has evolved over time it has not looked the same throughout the years but for the most part prayer for me is pausing. So whether I’m pausing to read something or pausing to write, pausing just to be and sit outside in the sun. That would be basically what I feel I’m doing when I pray, it’s an intentional pause…

[00:02:27] Is there a challenge for you in having that pause?

I would say it has gotten to be a little less of a challenge just because of the nature of my work. So when I was working at a shelter it was…hard to just take a breather…but even that for me was prayer enough and it paused enough…at the moment I work from home and I work with a Catholic organization and they really try to build in a work-life balance and so throughout the day pausing is natural. And now that I have this puppy who drives me crazy sometimes, he also forces me to get outside and so then I’m just sitting and pausing while he’s doing his thing. But I have that moment to just be and you know it’s not because I’m in a stressful situation.

[00:04:08] There are different forms of prayer that you can do like walking. How have those different forms of prayer helped you in your life as your life changes?

Yeah, I love that you bring up walking. I don’t know that I ever myself thought of that as prayer but what I love about it is that it includes your whole body. And for me dance has been prayer…growing up dance was just fun, it was entertainment and then later on when I taught dance and I realized how important it was, and I specifically taught dance at a school for all girls, and so when I saw how important it was for these young women to connect with their bodies, there again there’s that word connect, I realized how important movement was for the soul even.

So then dance became prayer when I, yeah, when I could do that for myself and say okay I can just connect through dance to God, to even my own emotions because I’m not really always good at identifying what my emotions are but I learned that I could just dance through them, and dance with them, and that helped me just be more aware of myself, what I was experiencing, bring it to God. And so I started doing that, like even on Instagram, I was posting you know like a dance that people could follow if they wanted to pray like that. And yeah so I’d say movement of all sorts can also be prayer.

[00:05:55] Where and when did you realize that dance is a form of prayer?

…I think it was, is I was having some emotions, didn’t really know what they were you know, didn’t know what to do with them. And there was a song that just kept coming back to me and it was like it wouldn’t leave me and my body wanted to feel that dance or that song. And so I was like, “all right, you know, I’m just gonna go dance to this song.” And I got home in my room, I put it on and that was the first time, yeah, that I really experienced like this is what it means to let my prayer and what I’m experiencing be a full body experience, and dance as a way of expressing that, and releasing that, and holding, you know, all the things letting it be a part of me.

[00:07:29] Were you constantly always going in dance as your form of prayer or was it in special instances?

I would say it was occasional. It was so similar to that first time it happened. It would be if a song was standing out to me or really was touching me deeply then I was like, “all right, this is an invitation to pray with this song.” And the way I pray with music is through dancing and so yeah it always felt like an invitation. Sort of even like when I write. It doesn’t, you know, I don’t always feel like “oh, I gotta write something today” but when I feel in myself that there’s something I want to say then I’m like “oh, I’m being invited to write that down.”

[00:08:14] Can you just generally speak about writing as a form of prayer? How does that look for you, do you have a special notebook, how long does it take?

Yeah, yeah, I would say that also has evolved over time. Writing for me, for a long time was just like, I was just writing about my day…but over time I don’t feel like it’s necessary to you know go over my day, at the end of the day, every day through writing…I do have a notebook that I really like to write in. I have a pen that I will always use and I specifically choose notebooks with blank pages because I like the possibility also just do a little drawing or something.

But yeah sometimes kind of like with dance I feel like there’s an idea or there’s something I want to write down or something I want to say and it won’t leave me alone. Like it won’t go away and it keeps coming to mind, it keeps coming up and maybe in conversation or in my heart and so I say “all right, I really need to work through this and write it out.” And so it’s not always something that like is fully formed in my mind but then writing it out helps me to really understand what it is that I’ve been thinking about.

[00:09:51] There may be a very thin line between people who write in a journal and then transitioning that to a form of prayer. Sometimes if we do start writing in a journal we’re focused on ourselves and our thoughts but is there a point for you that you noticed that it transitions to a conversation with God?

Yeah, there are times when it becomes a conversation with God and then there are times that it becomes just giving gratitude to God. And then there are other times and I’m like “I really need this God,” you know, and so it’s a prayer of petition. But it usually comes around to where God is in my life or where I, you know, want God to be in my life…

[00:11:05] Do you ever go back and look at what you wrote?

I know that so many people say that you should go back. I never do. I’m like there’s just so much, I don’t have time for that. I really never unless it’s a poem that I wrote and I really, you know, remember that I liked it or something. But yeah usually I don’t go back.

[00:11:30] You also pray the Rosary. How is that for you?

…I will typically pray the rosary at night, like when I’m in bed…I pray it with the intent of like having it calm me, relax me…I feel like the prayer and the time just spent with God in that way and with Mary and, you know, sort of like spending time with her perspective as a woman in Jesus’s life and as his mother…I also make rosaries and I used to give them away and now because I work from home I don’t see a lot of people so I opened a little Etsy shop and I sell them. And that too though has become a way of connecting with others because people will sometimes share their stories of like, “oh, I’m so glad I found these because you know…” and they’ll share. Or, you know, “I’m so excited to give this to so and so because…” I love thinking that all these rosaries are out there now, you know, hundreds because I made so many.

[00:13:23] What got you into making rosaries?

Yeah, I went on a pilgrimage. So I did this pilgrimage several times but I think it was the first time that I did it. We had a retreat and like in preparation and one of the men at the retreat showed us how to make these knotted rosaries. And I’d never seen them before, never heard of them, and I just loved, again it’s just kind of like the repetition of tying these knots…then after a while I discovered people who would sell the cord and it was like “oh, my gosh there’s so many beautiful colors to choose from and patterns.” And then it was just this exciting piece of like “what’s it going to look like when it comes out?” And, yeah, I just kept going.

[00:14:16] You also mentioned that you also do Lectio Divina. How has that opened up a different part of prayer for you?

Yeah I think that’s a great question on the heels of the rosary piece because it is that like touching, it’s being in communion with other people, being in community. And I am an introvert by nature and so I do like my alone time. So communal prayer isn’t always my favorite but I am a deep thinker and a critical thinker and so I really loved how Lectio Divina got you as a group to go deeper. And even though you’re going deeper with each other, you’re going deeper in your own relationship with God and then you’re doing that in this space with other people. And so, yeah, it’s so interesting just that it’s almost paradoxical in that it is an individual prayer but you’re doing it with others. And also you can’t do it on your own. I’ve done it where I just journal my responses, you know. But yeah I think it’s just like a journey, you’re journeying with other people. It’s your journey still but other people are with you and you’re with others on that journey.

[00:16:01] To clarify, when you say “others” are you speaking about other people present with you or you’re talking about others in scripture?

I mean technically both, yeah. But you know I mean others because typically when I pray Lectio Divina it’s with a group of people. But no, that’s a good point, is that you are also journeying with people in scripture.

Which brings up another form of praying with scripture that I like…it’s where you would like put yourself in the shoes of someone else. So you envision yourself being the one, you know, so let’s say I envisioned that I am Mary Magdalene and what it would have been like to be the one who sees Jesus in the garden, you know, after he’s risen. So I like the imaginative piece of that but also the closeness then to Jesus that there is because you’re picturing yourself physically in that scenario. And then what you would be feeling, what you would be thinking, would you be hearing or smelling. And it just kind of brings it to life in a way that simply reading doesn’t always do.

[00:17:17] Do you feel like there are moments that you need to share some of these experiences with people?

Yeah, there are times where it’s so powerful and not necessarily that I feel like everyone needs to know this but that I feel like I can’t just keep it here. It’s bigger than me and in those times, I had a blog, I haven’t posted on my blog in years I think, but that would be one place where I would. I also on Instagram where I would post my dance videos at times, have also posted like a short reflection there. Yeah, or like during podcasting I’ll share some of my experiences…

[00:20:11] I think in prayer we may often get a response from God, however that expresses itself, how have you responded to those moments?

I think my response is typically awe. It’s like “how did you know? Like, how did you know this is what I needed? How did you know?” You know, I’m amazed and like for example, like I said I moved across the country in the fall and that included a lot of things but specifically getting a job. And it was very stressful, I think it was one of the most stressful times of my life because I had a lot of work experience, great work experience, I’m a hard worker and I thought “oh, well I’ll start looking in August, I’m moving out there in October so by, you know, end of October I should have something.”

I was applying for jobs August, September, October. Nothing was happening and I was like “I need something, obviously need a job to be able to support myself.” And everything else had come into place, like I had gotten a car, I found a house to rent, like perfect little spot for me. But then it was like, but I have no way to pay for these things. I’ve received everything I needed except for the thing that is gonna keep it going. So that whole time, I mean, I cried a lot and I started substitute teaching just because it was some sort of income but it didn’t even cover a month’s rent.

So I had to get a lot of help and in that time, part of the responses to my prayer of like “Lord, I need a job” was “yes, but look.” And so like, “yes, but look at the support system you have. Look at things that have been sustained because of the people. Look at how willing people are to help. Look at you know the ease of finding something,” because substitute teaching happened real fast. I was able to get in and start working within a couple weeks. You know, like “look at even the capacity you have to deal with this very stressful situation,” that I didn’t fall into despair because it was very, very hard to feel hopeful when every interview I had nothing happened. And I was qualified for these positions, I was excited about them, and so it was like, “yes, but look.”

And I was like “okay, I’m looking” you know, but then when I really did take the time to look it was like, “wow, it’s true. I never paid attention to how supportive my family is,” like I was always the one you know trying to support them but here they were helping me with groceries, giving me rides because I was like “I don’t have gas,” you know, handing me a couple hundred bucks here and there. You know, whatever they could. And then also “yes, but look at the capacity you have in this situation” and like “wow, that’s true. I do have the wherewithal.” You know, God has given me this mind and drive to be able to keep going even though it’s really hard…

And so now I’m like “I have a great job. I love it. I love my colleagues. I get paid well. I have all the great benefits” and so I’m like and now I can say it’s my turn to help support. And it’s my turn to help others who are in dire need and it’s my turn. So all these things were part of the response. And then like amazing job that I get, I could not have even anticipated the type of work that God had for me. And so all the other jobs yes, they could have worked but in the end I was glad I didn’t get any of them because this was, this was the one. So I know it’s a very long response but it’s one very recent example that is still with me.

[00:26:09] How difficult is it for you to concentrate and lock in in prayer and let yourself go in prayer?

To me it comes down to that invitation that I feel, that like I can’t ignore it and to me it’s not, it’s not always about the amount of time, I think it’s about the depth. Because you can reach depth in two minutes…however much time you have. Whether, you know, between changing diapers or between jobs because some people have multiple jobs to sustain their living. But you can still enter depth.

[00:29:06] I think that’s so very true. I feel like we ourselves create these definitions of prayer or are being told very limited definitions of prayer and sometimes we battle with ourselves that we aren’t checking the box of these types of prayers. As you’re speaking you are opening up the different possibilities of just having those moments with God. And they can look different ways.

Yeah, I mean just on that note I would say prayer is as diverse as people are.

[00:30:11] What’s the latest form of prayer you’ve come across recently that has stood out for you?

I would say right now I’m feeling invited to look at poetry as prayer…

[00:30:50] I want to end with the same set of brief questions I have at the end of all my interviews with my guests. The first is what is one scripture verse or part of the Bible that really resonates with you and why?

One story that touched me deeply and it was a retreat that I had and I was reading “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” by James Martin and it was the passage about the healing of Bartimaeus, he was blind. And when Jesus asks him “what do you want me to do for you?” And that to me that’s like the most powerful. I would say it’s that.

It’s just that God, who created the universe and each one of us, would even want to know what it is that we’re asking, you know, and could already figure it out because God is God but wants that human connection of like, “be in this with me, you know, share with me, talk with me. What do you want? What do you want me to do?”…that causes us to really pay attention even for ourselves, “what’s going on in ourselves?” Like “oh, yeah, what do I really want? What am I actually looking for?” And I think that’s the point.

[00:32:35] What is one word or a couple of words that you would like God to use in describing you?

That’s a good question. I would say lovable and curious.

[00:32:48] Is there anything you want to add, any final comments, is there anything you want us to help promote or others to support?

Not that I can think of. I mean if anyone wants to find my Etsy Shop it’s called Adentro y Afuera. So translates to like “inside and out” because for me it’s an invitation to live your spiritual life inside and out. But it’s also on my Instagram, you can find my Instagram under Desiree Finley, my link to the Etsy Shop is there too.

Tags: Prayer
Jesus Christ is fully alive today in people. The 1 Christian 1 Topic podcast highlights the many Christian voices and their work in these one-on-one interviews. We cover one topic with one guest spanning various people and topics like music, art, writing and more. Subscribe at Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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