“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
St. Francis of Assisi
Since churches have been close for several weeks now, I have been forced to find other ways to worship God. Services are, of course, live streamed, but it is not the same thing as actually going to church, and I find it very difficult to quieten my mind and find peace.
Luckily I live in Finland, where we have a-plenty of forests and old, wise saying: "Let the forest be my church." To us finns, finding God in nature has always been easy. So, when I most eagerly missed going to church and receiving God's grace, I built I tiny little altar in the woods and said my prayers there. It made me feel so much better, so I have continued the habit.
I just take some sticks and form a cross of them, clean an area on ground from fallen leaves and put my cross there. Then I frame it with pine cones or lichen or moss. Flowers would be nice, too, but we do not have too much flowers this early and to be honest I do not like picking wild flowers; I feel pity for them.
I love making these little altars: especially because they are all-natural and very short-living: I know animals, or even stong wind, will demolish them within days. "Like the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire." (Luke 12:28.)
I also like the idea that maybe someone else will find my altar in the woods, realize what it means and maybe find some comfort to his soul. I always say a little prayer for that person, when I make my altar. That if someone was to find it, he would find peace. I even like to think that maybe someone could even start thinking about religion when he sees my altars. This is why I quoted St. Francis of Assisi in the beginning: you do not need to talk to people, or even see them, to preach gospel!
I also say a little prayer for the woods I place my altar on: all the animals and plants. They need God's grace, too.
I have also made little stick crosses on graveyard and hidden them under bushes.
I am like some guerilla-evangelizing-altar-fairy, who makes little oases of God's grace here and there, in secrecy.
If you want to do something similar, but cannot go to woods, city park will do: you can find sticks everywhere. Or you can draw something in the sand on children playground. Fish, perhaps, and the code for some Bible verse.
Our church teaches everybody has their own ministry, however tiny it might be. I feel that in this point of my life, this is the best ministry I could have.
I also had a problem to find peace needed for prayer in the privacy of my own home. We moved couple of months ago to a smaller flat and things haven't found their places yet (and never will, since we only live here while "hunting" for house of our own.) Anyway, everything is cluttered and covered with dog hair. This does not call you to pray.
So I took a pretty little basket. I put my Bible there, my rosary and my journal and pen. There is some spruce resin in small soapstone box and some birchbark - I like to have nature around me in some form and something I can smell and touch. Orthodox travel icon would also be lovely, but I do not possess one. I have always thought they are very expensive but now when I googled I noticed that is not the case, so maybe I am getting one.
Then I added my favourite silk kerchief. I like to cover my head when praying, it helps me concentrate. One might also add headphones or a speaker, if one wants to listen to music; I prefer silence and made the decision my phone is not allowed in my "silent space". Silencing headphones could be a great idea if you cannot find a silent place in your home.
When the need arises, I just grab my basket and retire to our sauna. It is the most silent room in our flat, dusky (if I cover the window) and there are no distractions. No clutter, no dog hair, no nothing. Just small silent and dusky space, surrounded by wood panels. Perfect for silent contemplation, meditation and prayer.
Since everybody seems to be getting on their family member's nerves during quarantine, I suggest you create own prayer baskets to everybody. Grabbing that basket would tell other family members that "this one needs some silent time". I am sure in most homes it is possible to isolate some space for this purpose: even kids play tent would do. That does require some silencing method, earplugs or silencing headphones.
If you could name one room as "silent room", it would be great: I am sure that if one family members was to grab his basket and go there, others would soon follow. How beautiful it would be, whole family praying together in silence? Like a little retreat.