Finding Our Prayer Mat

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 16, 2022

In my home, I have a simple ritual center. A cloth from Peru covers a small table. A blue hued painting reveals my IHM community’s founders. A photo of my parents on their wedding day gazes back at me. Memorial cards of community, family, and friends remind me of so many graced companions.

And then there’s the prayer box, filled with slips of paper scrawled with the names of those who have asked for prayer. “Once your name is in the prayer box,” I tell people, “you will be there forever.” The prayer box also holds a tiny plastic bag filled with soil from El Salvador. The nephew of Maura Clarke, a North American churchwoman martyred in El Salvador, placed this soil into my hands from the place where his aunt’s body was discovered after her death. I added soil from my own digging when I prayed at this grave site in 2010. Clearly, there’s nothing on the ritual table without purpose or meaning.

Every morning, I hold a steaming cup of tea and nestle into my easy chair near my sacred spot. I feel myself surrounded, in a primal way, by the palpable energies of love. I can feel love in every thread woven into the colorful Peruvian fabric. Love from my IHM founders captured in oil and canvas. Love from my parents embracing, their young lives spread out before them. Love in the faces stilled, remembered, and printed on holy cards. Love in the dreams or the desperation spelled out on slips of paper and forever finding a home in my prayer box.

Of course, when I’m on the road, as I often am for retreat work, I can’t take all this with me. I have to improvise, to find fresh ways to connect to those energies of love. So I tuck into my suitcase a sachet filled with lavender grown and harvested from my tiny summer garden plot. One whiff, just one whiff, and I am home, grounded in the dirt that yields such beauty and holds such holy connections.

Chris Koellhoffer, summer garden

In The Illuminated Prayer, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen observes that, “For those who have come to know God, the whole world is a prayer mat.” The whole world. So what and where can we name as our prayer mats, those people, living creatures, experiences that deeply connect us to the Holy, that open us to the presence of the divine, that remind us that wherever we are, we are on holy ground?

That holy ground might be a prayer table or a lavender sachet. A photo of a beloved soul mate. A Golden retriever nestled against our legs. A cat softly purring its prayers. An African violet surprising us with blossoms. The chirping of early morning robins. The brilliance of a setting sun. The lapping of waves. A place of stillness. The prayer mat is under our feet, before our eyes, outside our ears, within our hearts. Everywhere and everywhere and everywhere.

May each day in this new year expand and stretch our prayer mats and grow our spaciousness of heart so that we may recognize and welcome the holy that is at every moment all around us.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to sit near your prayer table, your ritual center, or whatever serves as your prayer mat today.
In what ways does this draw you to the Holy One?
Ask for openness of heart to recognize the many invitations to prayer that will present themselves to you today.

Featured Image:   William Farlow, Unsplash

Please hold in your prayer my congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton), as we enter into a day of prayer and reflection to prepare for our upcoming Chapter, which will include time to contemplatively tend to the work and mission of the Congregation (in March) and time to elect new leadership (in April). Thank you.

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4 thoughts on “Finding Our Prayer Mat”

  1. Chris, I’m so grateful to you for this beautiful reflection. Thank you for the opportunity to see and experience the world through the eyes of your heart. May the New Year hold many blessings for you. Love, Nan

  2. I can identify with my prayer mat being everywhere-everywhere around me-from our dog Blackie who loves a head massage, God`s special creature, themountains, the towering corn in our garden to billoing white clouds lazily passing overhead to the path by the streamwith a panaramic view. Thanks for the reminder Chris.

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