Dominican Sister of Hope Juanita Morales, OP came to the United States from Puerto Rico to become a Dominican Sister. A pious child, she had Lives of the Saints tucked away under her bed in Puerto Rico, and she looked forward to the day when she could “give her life to God.”
In 1957, Sister did just that. She entered the Dominican Sisters and became a teacher and family counselor, among other positions. Sister Juanita now lives in Cornwall, New York. With her warm Spanish accent and bustling energy, it doesn’t take long to realize that Sister Juanita remains active (she doesn’t hesitate to detail her many hobbies). Yet, at her core lies a deep prayer life. Sister Juanita rises every morning before the sun to spend time in silence with God, and then she continues to pray throughout the day. Below, Sister Juanita shares her secrets to connecting with God through different circumstances, and to building a stronger prayer life on the whole.
1. Commit to Silence.
We’ve written before about the benefits of silence. Sister Juanita doesn’t just prefer silence, though; she wakes up at 4:30 am everyday in order to ensure that she can pray in darkness and complete silence.
By choosing a time when her neighbors aren’t up and her phone won’t ring, Sister is guaranteed peace and quiet that she can’t get at other times during the day. She says that she likely learned from her mother to love silence.
“I remember my mother sitting on the back porch in quiet every night after supper, and I used to go out there and sit with her,” Sister Juanita recalls. “She was praying; I could feel it. So I learned to pray in silence, maybe from that experience.”
No doubt, finding silence is tough (and waking up that early can be even tougher!) but Sister says that it’s absolutely worth it. “You don’t hear doors banging or people walking upstairs or in the hallway,” she says. Moreover, she finds turning off the lights to be an extra help.
“I like to pray in the dark always,” Sister Juanita shares. “To be quiet with your God, it’s just neat. I enjoy that.”
2.Discipline Yourself to Stick with It
Once you’ve begun to get into the groove of prayer, it takes discipline to keep up the habit. Sister Juanita says that it is crucial to assign yourself a specific time everyday to pray, and to honor that time commitment. “Choose a time to be quiet,” Sister advises. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a long stretch. Five minutes is a good starting point; you can always increase the length of prayer from there.
3. Keep a Journal
Sister is always looking for journals to help document her spiritual journey. She journals daily in order to track progress in her spiritual life, and to identify patterns that can help inform her prayer. Journaling might seem daunting, but you don’t have to start out with a blank slate. Sister Juanita recommends Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, which is a guided journal with an accompanying reflection book.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Include Movement
Although Sister sets aside time to pray every morning in stillness, she follows it with tai chi soon after. She learned tai chi in 1998 and has been hooked since; according to Sister Juanita, tai chi is one of many ways to pray with the body.
“It’s very soft,” she says. “It’s very flow-y. And I have a whole list of prayers that I could do with every movement.” In addition to tai chi, Sister walks outside each day.
Prayer shouldn’t only be done while doing something else (this is why Sister Juanita is sure to pray in silence and stillness after waking each day). Yet, multitasking while praying helps Sister Juanita to stay connected to God throughout the day, even while she does seemingly menial tasks like cooking or driving.
“When I’m cooking, I’m praying for the people who have farms and till the earth, and those who get the goods to me, and the stores. I pray for all those people,” Sister says.
Indeed, once you have a strong prayer life, shorter prayers throughout the day are a solid way to supplement it.
6. Start Now.
Certainly, there are steps we can take to help us focus more on prayer. Yet, like any good habit, the only sure way to improve your prayer life is to embark on the task. Whether you’re praying for others, praying with your body, praying in stillness or praying in the dark, the important part is that you pray.
According to Sister Juanita, there’s never a better time than right now.
“I pray all the time,” Sister Juanita concludes. “That’s the best thing to do; it feels good!”
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