My story is not unique in today’s world. I was raised Catholic through high school. I was baptized, confirmed, and went to Mass pretty much every Sunday, but I never really believed in it all. I was largely just going through the motions.
As you might expect, I quickly fell away from my faith. Up through the end of college I would have called myself agnostic, though in retrospect I was atheist. I thought: with everything we know in the 21st century, who could believe anymore in a God that sat up in the clouds and cared about whether we were nice or not? Weren’t all of these religions just different myths created to explain what science had yet to discover? Weren’t they all just legends to help us cope with death? I was not the kind of person to fall prey to the kind of naive thinking. I was the kind of person who believed what was supported by fact and evidence, by logic and reason.
It was a relatively dark and empty time in my life. There was nothing terribly depressing or evil, I just carried a vague feeling of emptiness and anxiety. I found myself being mean to people I loved, caught in feelings of jealousy, anxiety, lust, and insecurity. I struggled to have any real motivation or purpose.
Then things began to change. I started to meet friends who had rational arguments for their faith, friends who didn’t just believe in someone up in the sky but had a philosophy and theology based on logic and reason and experience that guided their life. I started to read, not books of advanced theology, but simple books trying to articulate the Christian faith at its core. Aspects from these discussions and books resonated within me: arguments about free will, about faith, about love. I started to think that maybe this whole Christianity thing wasn’t all just a fairy-tale after all.
But something didn’t click with me. Apparently, you’re supposed to be able to talk to this God. You’re supposed to be able to be friends with Him. And that’s something I had never experienced and, honestly, wasn’t sure I could. I tried praying, but for me, my only exposure to prayer were the ones I memorized as a child. I had never explored any new ways to pray, and though I knew that these memorized prayers were supposed to be deep and powerful, I just could not get past the feeling that I was talking to a wall.
It was then that I entered the professional world – a world full of emails, reviews, deadlines, stress and busyness. A world with very little silence or time to pause.
I kept trying to grow in my faith, but I felt like I was stagnating, so I decided to try mindfulness meditation. The only type of meditation I was aware of was from eastern traditions, and so I tried some of the popular guided apps.
I loved them. They were a great way to learn mindfulness meditation without needing to travel across the world. For the first time I found what felt like a sense of peace and calm. The only issue was that it felt like I was trying to force-fit my Christian faith into an agnostic or Buddhist box. I had no idea whether this was in line with what the Church taught, or if I was somehow going against my faith by practicing these methods of meditation. Plus, I could not get over the feeling that I was focusing too much on myself during these sessions. I kept feeling the pull of my mind to focus outward, to focus on my faith and on others.
And that’s when I really started to think that there’s got to be something more. There’s got to be a way to build a deep and living relationship with God within the Christian context. After all, there are monks who spend their entire lives in seclusion, religious brothers and sisters who describe their life and work as “prayer without ceasing.” There are people my age who are choosing to dedicate themselves entirely to God alone.
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest writers in Christian history, received a revelation from God so powerful that he left his culminating five-volume work unfinished simply saying: “All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
And I began to think, what if this kind of relationship is possible for me? What if there really is a God out there that cared about what I did with my life? Someone who is constantly trying to communicate with me? What if I could wake up each morning and instead of trying to figure out what I wanted to do, ask God what He wanted me to do? What if I could somehow start to hear Him, to recognize what He’s saying?
What if I could spend the entire day in conversation with God? Constantly growing with Him, exploring and understanding my faith, and actually be excited to go to church?
Constantly with Him. Sharing in His joy and peace. Bringing all of my shortcomings and worries, stresses and relationships to Him. Letting Him carry them for me. Letting Him into my day-to-day mundane routines, into my hopes and dreams. Letting Him guide my purpose in life.
What if I could somehow find this peace, joy and relationship with God, without having to go off to live in the mountains somewhere?
That’s the question that started the work we’ve been doing at Hallow.
Our goal is to discover how to find this relationship through our faith, how to share in the peace and joy God brings into the real world, every day.
We’ve spent the last few months digging in and researching all the different ways to pray and meditate offered in the Christian tradition. We’ve talked to countless priests, religious brothers and sisters, faith leaders from different denominations and lay people inspired by their faith to try and learn the methods to finding and growing in peace with God. And we started testing and trying the different things we were learning in our own prayer lives.
And what we found was more than we ever could have expected. We found a world deep with history, experience, and teaching going back thousands of years.
A world where seminarians and religious brothers and sisters spend an entire year learning different methods of prayer that I, a supposed Catholic my entire life, had never even heard of.
A world that offered an entire new collection of interesting and deeply spiritual ways to pray.
We couldn’t wait to continue to learn and share them.
This is the idea behind Hallow: provide a simple, intuitive mobile app that helps us foster a relationship with God and the peace of prayer through simple guided sessions.
Hallow is a simple way to create a daily, personal retreat each morning for you in your home. The idea isn’t to invent new ways to pray, but rather to bring to the world the enormously rich pool of contemplative prayer methods that already exist within the Christian faith today.
This is what we’re building. And so far we’ve gotten some great feedback with our initial test version.
We are discovering that it is possible to build this kind of relationship with God in our day-to-day, and that this simple app is able to act as a means for the Holy Spirit to work through.
Here are some of the things people have been saying about it:
“The power of just being with God was unexpected. Starting my prayer meditation this way is almost rebuilding the way I think about God.”
“This is exactly what Catholic millennials need.”
“I haven’t felt this much peace in a long time…It was a good reminder that with the loudness of the world, we forget to sit down in silence and spend time with our Lord. It was so beautiful…I am excited for the next few days to come.”
“I was able to sit in silence for a moment before the chaos of my day started. It’s the perfect way to start the day, in silence with God. He is in the silence.”
You might say, “Well that all sounds great, but how can I start? What can I do now?”
Well, the first thing I would say is to feel free email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk with you about where you are in your faith journey and about how we at Hallow can help. The second thing is that though we are still beta testing, the app will launch very soon, hopefully at end of this year, so you won’t have to wait long. Lastly, if you’d like a glimpse into the content that we’re planning to share, just keep reading! In the app itself the content will be presented through individual guided audio sessions that let you close your eyes and focus on the prayer, but we’ve put some initial guidance to help you get started below.
One huge lesson we have learned in our research is that there are many different types of prayer. There are the traditional spoken prayers. There’s singing, chant, and Taizé meditation. There are group prayers and the Liturgy of the Hours. Among all of these, we have found that the three simplest to get started with in personal prayer are Christian Meditation, the Examen, and Lectio Divina.
1. Christian Meditation – Finding peace in silence
This type of prayer is simple. With all the busyness, distraction and noise in our lives today it feels like there is no way just to sit and be still. Christian meditation is one way we can.
Essentially, we find a quiet place to sit and try to focus our mind on something simple. At Hallow we start with the breath, but then switch to a simple phrase such as “Come, Holy Spirit” or an image of God leading you beside a stream.
It’s a practice that’s very similar to the mindfulness meditation, but the difference is that we use this simple focus on the breath only to collect ourselves and then turn our minds to God. The best part of Christian meditation is that we are not the ones doing the work. The goal is to put ourselves in a position to let God takeover, to set our minds on Him and let him lead us.
So, but how do you actually do it? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. First, try to find a consistent time each morning, before your mind starts focusing on the concerns of the day. Then find a place to pray. It can be anywhere: a floor, a chair, a couch, a bench. It just needs to be a place of calm and quiet where you can consistently return. You can have your legs straight or crossed, your hands clasped together or palms up. Essentially to begin you just want to be in a position that is comfortable (you shouldn’t be in pain), but alert (you don’t want to fall asleep).
Start with some deep breaths: in through the nose and out through the mouth. Gently close your eyes.
Next, we do a simple set of exercises to understand our surroundings. Start by acknowledging any noises in the area: don’t try to listen for them, just recognize them and let them pass by. Then, turn your mind to the intent of this session: we’re doing this to grow closer with God.
If you feel yourself become distracted, simply acknowledge that it has happened, and gradually turn your attention back to your breath.
Sometimes it can help to count your breaths. Count up to 10 and then start over again at 1.
After about 5 to 10 minutes of this stillness gently turn your mind to God. In our first meditation session we encourage you to imagine yourself sitting on a bench next to God. Don’t try to force any thoughts, just simply rest with Him for a few minutes.
Then gently open your eyes. Try not to move or check your phone right away. Just sit with a soft focus and take note of how you feel.
Most likely the first time you try this, you’ll realize what many do when starting this journey – our minds often race from one thing to the next. Silence is often uncomfortable.
The great news, though, is that God is here to help. He’s already reaching out, always knocking at the door of our hearts…we just have to let Him in. By committing to spend even a few minutes in prayer each day, you’ll have already taken that most important step towards opening your mind and heart to conversation with God. The most important part for us is just to show up and try.
2. The Jesuit Examen – Reflecting on your day
Okay, so now you’ve begun to practice sitting in silence with God. What we’ve found as a good next step is learning to see God and listen to God throughout your day. One of the best ways we’ve found to build this practice is through the Examen.
The Examen is a technique developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a man born in Spain who served as a soldier before becoming a priest, theologian, founder of the Jesuit order, and renowned spiritual director. Even though he lived in the 15th and 16th centuries, his spiritual exercises are still widely practiced today.
The Examen is typically practiced at night as a way to review your whole day.
You begin in the same way you did before with Christian meditation. Find a comfortable and alert position, take some deep breaths, and acknowledge the intent of the prayer: that we’re doing this to grow closer with God.
Simply start then to walk through your day as if you’re replaying a movie in your mind: all the scenes and details, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, interactions with other people, and any challenges or joys. Notice occasions that really stand out – for good or for bad – and embrace the ordinary, mundane moments as well.
As you go through the day in your mind simply ask yourself, “Where was God in these moments?” Ask for His help – help to show you where He was present and to guide us to the moments He wants to bring our attention to.
After you’ve reviewed the day, reflect on it as a whole. Call to mind the moments for which you were most grateful, savor them, and thank God. Turn your mind to the moments you weren’t at your best, times when you felt stress or anxiety, when you might’ve done wrong against someone or failed to do good for another person. Talk to God about these times and humbly ask for His forgiveness.
Then gently turn your attention to the next day. What are you excited for? What are you nervous about? Visualize yourself walking through the day with God and ask for His help.
Gently open your eyes. Thank God for the time together.
We’ve found that this is an easy and effective way at the end of the day to help you build the practice of mindfulness and better recognizing God’s presence throughout the day.
3. Lectio Divina – A conversation with God
Last, but certainly not least, is Lectio Divina – the first method of prayer we cover that directly incorporates the Bible. Lectio Divina means “divine reading” in Latin and is a way of reading the Bible in which we gradually let go of our own agendas and open ourselves to what God is trying to say to us.
This prayer method works well at any point in the day; and, like the other methods, is best done in a consistent and quiet place. As always, we start with some deep breaths.
Then you turn to a passage from the Gospels and begin to read it very slowly. It doesn’t matter which passage you pick, but it might help to start with passages you’re already familiar with. If you’re unsure, feel free to google the daily reading for Mass that day. Within the app, these passages are assembled into different themes and read to you.
Typically, you only want to focus on a short passage, usually only a handful of verses. Read these verses as slowly and meditatively as you can and notice if a word, phrase or image stands out to you.
It may take reading the passage over again 2 to 3 times before a word or phrase calls out to you, but once you’ve found it, simply sit with it. Hold it in your mind.
Then after a few minutes begin to talk with God. Listen to what He’s trying to say to you through these words and then respond. Finally, as in the previous methods, spend some time at the end simply resting with God in His presence.
At the end of these prayers, we close with the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father, and the sign of the cross. As you did before with the Gospels, try to pick a word from the Our Father to carry with you throughout the day.
In fact, the word that first stuck out to me during my first attempt at Lectio Divina was the name of the app – the word Hallow from the Our Father.
Wow, that is a lot. How do I actually get started?
This is a lot to digest – and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Plus, it all sounds great on paper, but as we all know, it’s so much harder to actually take the time every day to commit to spending time in prayer.
This is the exact reason why we’ve been so excited about building Hallow. We think it gives an easy and accessible way to learn and practice the three methods outlined here, plus many more – such as themed content on joy, humility, love, letting go, calm; targeted challenges to rediscover traditional prayers like the Our Father, the Stations of the Cross, and the Psalms; and daily themed sessions.
We believe Hallow can help you as it’s helped all of us on the team to build a habit of prayer through daily prayer reminders and a journal to help you keep track of your journey. Hallow will be released to the app stores later this year. It will start with a 2-week free trial and then be offered as a subscription at $8.99 per month (30% less than the leading meditation apps). For every one subscription purchased, one will be given away for free to those who can’t afford it, but are looking to grow in their faith lives (e.g., candidates in adult Christian formation programs, those who can’t afford it).
While we put the finishing touches on the app, we encourage you as you’re waiting to begin trying out these different prayer methods on your own. See which ones resonate more with you and try to pray for a couple minutes each day.
I have personally started praying with all three throughout my week – rotating between Lectio and Meditation each morning with the Examen at night. The routine has dramatically changed and deepened my relationship with God. I have felt happier, more at peace, more joyful, more thankful and I have started to discover a real friendship with God. I get to wake up each day and enter into a conversation with God. We joke, we laugh; He pushes me, He helps me. When I get a tough email, need to have a difficult conversation, or disappoint myself, I have someone to lean on. And when things go well, and I’m reminded of my blessings, I get to share in the gratitude with God. I am still very much a sinner and am only just beginning my relationship with God, but my hope is that we can all embark on this wonderful adventure with Him together.
All of us here at Hallow just want to say thank you. We appreciate you taking the time to read our story. Feel free to share this book with your friends and family or reach out to us if you have any questions at all. Know that we’re praying for you and your journey in faith and are blessed to get to be a part of it with you.
Peace be with you,
Alex (Co-founder and CEO of Hallow) and the Hallow team