Cardenal on Prayer, Body, and Gratitude

It was my pleasure to meet Cardenal on two occasions. One was spending some time with him at his home in Nicaragua back in 1990 when he was cultural minister of the Sandinista government; and the second was at Cody’s bookstore near the University of California campus on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley when he came north for a book reading about ten years later.

Ernesto Cardenal, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

About prayer, he writes: Prayer is nothing more than getting into intimate contact with God. It is communication with God, and as such it need not be expressed in words, nor even articulated mentally. 

One can communicate with a glance of the eyes, with a smile, with a sigh, as well as by a human act. Even…the painting of a picture, or a look toward heaven on the taking of a drink of water [can be prayer].

All our acts, if from a deep and honest place, can be a kind of prayer.

All our bodily acts are of the nature of prayer. Our body performs a perfect physiological act of thanksgiving when, thirsting, it receives into itself a glass of water. Or, when on a hot day, we bathe in a cool river, our skin sings a hymn of thanksgiving in praise of the Creator, even though this kind of prayer may be non-rational, unconscious and at times involuntary. 

Joy and gratitude at the river, in Nepal.
Photo by Michael Weibel on Unsplash

Yes, all bodily acts and other actions as well can be our prayer—but not if we define prayer almost exclusively as asking for something. Prayer is praise, it is thanks, it is using the gifts of life we have been given fully and well and for a more peaceful world. This is why I define prayer as a “radical response to life.” Whether awe or grief, creativity or working for justice and compassion, all our acts can and ought to be our prayer. 

God’s love is the light we behold. Photo by Peter Steiner on Unsplash

He continues. “We are able to transform everything we do into prayer. Work and labor are forms of existential prayer.”

This is possible because the divine, Spirit, is everywhere all the time. God surrounds us on all sides like the air. And like the atmosphere he/she emits visible and audible waves…. God’s love is the water we drink and the air we breathe and the light we behold. All natural phenomena are but different forms of God’s love.

Nature and grace are wedded.  Nature is grace and nature is love.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 345-347.  

See also Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life. 

See also Fox, Reinvention of Work.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Gratitude for it all. Photo by Ashley Inguanta on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Are you able to “transform everything you do into prayer”?  What difference does that make in your life and work?

Recommended Reading

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
“Our world is in crisis, and we need road maps that can ground us I wisdom, inspire us to action, and help us gather our talents in service of compassion and justice.  This revolutionary book does just that.  Matthew Fox takes some of the most profound spiritual teachings of the West and translates them into practical daily mediations.  Study and practice these teachings.  Take what’s in this book and teach it to the youth because the new generation cannot afford to suffer the spirit and ethical illiteracy of the past.” — Adam Bucko, spiritual activist and co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation for Homeless Youth

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

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5 thoughts on “Cardenal on Prayer, Body, and Gratitude”

  1. Avatar

    Our ‘state of being’ becomes our living prayer. How we spiritually, physically and actively practice ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ then becomes our conscious and realized acts of worship, which in turn shapes our nature and state of being.

    Are we in a peaceful state, a joyful state, a loving state, an enduring state during trial and suffering? When we move from this prayerful state of being, how do we ‘center ourselves’ and get back into it? Like a pendulum, life will continuously look to swing us back and forth. Our heart and inner intentions need to be able to provide us with the still, quiet and calmness to become ‘centered’ once again. Namaste. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    “In the Beginning before Beginnings was the Void.
    “Out of the Void came the Light.
    The Light was called Love and it was Good.
    All things come from the Light, will return to the Light, and can bask in the Light.
    Light is Love, and Love is all-illuminating.
    But let us start upon the path to knowing WE ARE THE LIGHT.”

    —- “The Lemurian Way: Remembering Your Essential Nature” (2017), p.23, by Lauren O. Thyme
    with Sareya Orion
    —- Lauren’s website is

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The mystic contemplates nature, as an act of prayer, an engagement with the essence and presence of the love of God; as the living Spirit of the Divine Mother… whom shares Her gifts of comfort, consolation and wisdom counsel… aknowledged, received, perceived and responded to, through our spiritual inheritance of intuition, imagination and creativity… which leads to self-reflection, self-revelation, self-realization, self-awareness and self-acceptance… the transformation of coming into being… the unfolding, evolving emergence and convergence with our true nature… a beautiful blessing of Oneing-With the all and the everything.

    Amen… let it be so… as it is, was, and ever shall be!

  4. Avatar

    What a beautiful message you present today, Matthew. Yes! “Prayer is praise, it is thanks, it is using the gifts of life we have been given fully and well and for a more peaceful world. This is why I define prayer as a “’radical response to life.’”

    My playwriting is one of my ways of working for justice and understanding. When my newest play was turned down by a nearby theater, a director friend and I decided to self-produce it. Why this play right now? Because its real-life main characters use their own gifts precisely as that–prayers for a better world. I hope that message–that we can all use our unique gifts as prayers–sneaks into people’s hearts through my words.

  5. Avatar

    Yes, Pelagius, Celtic Welsh mystic and monk (born last half of the 4th century), wrote that there is goodness in all creation where God can be glimpsed. Everywhere, he says, “”narrow shafts of Devine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth,””

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