Recently, I was in one of our parish churches praying the church. I was paying particular
attention to the stained glass windows and was going along meditating a little on each one
when I came to two that surprised me. They were the Agony in the Garden and the
Crucifixion. Now, there is nothing surprising about the Agony in the Garden or the
Crucifixion being the subjects of stained glass windows, but what caught me was that while
all of the other windows were full of stained glass, the space right around Jesus in the Agony
in the Garden and the Crucifixion were plain, transparent glass. I thought, “Did they run out
of money for stained glass, or did the artist make a mistake?” But then I thought, “What if it
was intentional? Why here? Why these two subjects?” And I looked at the windows again. In
the Agony in the Garden, Jesus is kneeling and praying, and the words “Thy will be done”
appear at the bottom of the window. As I was looking at this, I could see past the figure of
Jesus into the neighborhood that lay beyond and could see Jesus praying for them in His
agony, praying for me in His agony, that God’s will would be done in our lives. Likewise, in
the Crucifixion, the space around the crucified Christ drew me into the neighborhood and
into myself, and paired with the words “Father, forgive them,” I was struck once again by my
need for forgiveness and how that is accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus on the
“Praying this church was good for me,” I thought. “I’m glad I did this.” And then, when I turned to leave the Church, I came face to face with a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that I didn’t know was there. It was there, low, right in front of me, and the eyes of Jesus immediately caught me. They were full of compassion and love. I stood transfixed, resting in the love of my Savior.
"I was struck once again by my need for forgiveness and how that is accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross."
One of my favorite things to do when I get to go to a new parish to visit or to do in my own
parish every now and then is to “pray the church.” I find that it gets me out of any rut I am in
in how I am praying, it draws me closer to the parish and in intercession for the people of the
parish, and it allows the Lord some extra room to surprise me with a new insight or closeness
to Him. The way our churches are designed, their architecture, their stained glass, their
statues and other art, are intentional. They are meant to draw us into prayer, into
contemplation, deeper into our relationship with Jesus. That’s why I like to do what I call
“praying the church.” While our churches usually have all of these elements, they have them
in different combinations and by different artists. Spending time with the actual pieces in a
particular church and how they relate to one another is something that I find very helpful in
my prayer life.
How do I pray a church?
There is no one way to pray a church, and it can actually be helpful to pray the same church
multiple times in different ways, but some common things to pay attention to are:
Stained glass windows: is there a pattern to them or a theme that fits them
together? are there symbols in them, and what do they mean? what are the details of
how something is portrayed and what does that mean? – receive what the window is
saying, listen to the Lord speaking to you through the art, say a prayer based on your
Statues: who is this? what are they patron of? why are they here in this church? –
pray for the intercession of the saint, for yourself, for the parish, and for others
Architecture: what kind of architecture is the church building? what is it pointing to
with the way it is designed? how does that design help in the worship of God? – pray
based on these insights
Any other interesting features: what is it? why is it there? how can it bring me
closer to God?
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Dr. Seth Wright
Director of Missionary Discipleship
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