Alpacas Changed My Prayer Life

2015_Lenten blog 4 (image)This is a story of how a herd of alpacas changed my prayer life.

While living in Wichita a few years back, I hosted Kate the Couchsurfer. Kate the Couchsurfer was working in Wyoming and WWOOFing on weekends. I introduced her to 24-hour doughnuts and she taught me how to change my car tire in the dark.

After she left, I got to thinking about this weekend WWOOFing deal. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a volunteer farming opportunity, and an acronym I always have to look up. Kansas has about nine different farms that accept WWOOFers, including one run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace just a couple hours northwest of Wichita. The Dominican Sisters had alpacas, so naturally I needed to visit them. I sent an email off to Sister Terry and several weeks later found myself barreling down a dusty dirt road toward Heartland Farm.

Heartland Farm sprawls over 80 acres of Kansas plains and is home to several Catholic Sisters and a collection of animals, including the world’s softest alpacas. My weekend at the farm went something like this:  HERD OF ALPACAS. COMPOSTING TOILET. HERD OF ALPACAS. STRAW BALE HERMITAGE.  HERD OF ALPACAS. PRAYER SILO. HERD OF ALPACAS. CLIMBING TREES. HERD OF ALPACAS. It was magical. Basically, the Dominican Sisters of Peace at Heartland Farm are everything I ever want to be and more. Plus, I want an alpaca and perhaps a straw bale structure.

It was Heartland Farm that introduced me to my very first labyrinth. The farm’s labyrinth is mowed in the grass and, if memory serves, its total distance hovers around a mile. Sometime in between climbing a humungous tree and chasing after alpacas, I walked the labyrinth from outer edge to center and back again, and although I found walking and praying to be a peaceful experience, I don’t remember ever walking the labyrinth again on subsequent visits to the farm.

It’s been about a year and a half since I last visited Heartland Farm and it still remains the only place I’ve walked a labyrinth. While I’ve yet to walk another labyrinth, I’m intrigued by this walking-praying idea and so last week I walked to work while mumbling a mess of Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and exclamations as I tried not to slip on the ice. It wasn’t a particularly prayerful experience. I decided to try it again this week and add a little structure to the mix. With a printed copy of the Joyful Mysteries and my very warmest plaid flannel shirt, I wrapped up my workday and started home, saying my Monday rosary as I went.

These walks home have helped me realize that I pray best when incorporating prayer into what otherwise would be a semi-mindless activity, like walking. New goal? Saying one of my three weekly rosaries while walking.

Now if only I had an alpaca to walk with me.