How to Create a Soulful Prayer Ritual

How to Create a Soulful Prayer Ritual by Hillary McFarland

In a faith-based or religious life we often learn that prayer is something we “should” do. And then we feel guilty when we don’t pray, or when we don’t pray enough, or when we mumble “help” from our pillows rather than offering long, eloquent praise on our knees.

I believe in the power of prayer, but I don’t value prayers of obligation, and because God wants our hearts, I suspect He doesn’t either. Obligation-based relationships are not sustainable. With friends, with loved ones, or with God. So how do you go from “should” to “want?” How do you cultivate a prayerful life if it’s been awhile and you don’t know where to start?

Prayer is connection with the One who made you.
— Hillary McFarland

“Help. Thanks. Wow.”

These are three essential prayers, according to Anne Lamott. I know I’ve uttered them all, especially the first one when I’d collapse into bed after an exhausting day at work. (For what it’s worth, sometimes I’d cry in the car on my lunch break, and those tears were prayers, too.)

At the time, they were the only ones I had.

Once I stepped away from an exhausting career path and began reconstructing my spirituality, intentional daily prayer became a way I longed to connect with God. But I wanted it to be meaningful, not forced. So to get into a prayer rhythm I loved that came from the heart and not out of guilt or obligation, I designed a sacred daily ritual that made it easeful and brought deep joy.

And I still love it, but now that prayer is a consistent and beloved part of my life I no longer do this ritual everyday. However, if you long to establish daily intentional prayer, and need support beginning a new routine, I hope my prayer ritual will inspire you. Make this your own, but know that you do not need anything to talk to the Lord other than just yourself.

Prayer is connection with the One who made you. You can pray anywhere, and you do not need any talismans, special words, or rituals to do so.

How to Create a Soulful Prayer Ritual by Hillary McFarland

Creating a soulful prayer ritual

For this ritual you will need—

  • A sacred space

  • Anointing oil

  • Honesty

First, choose a space you can enter each day.

For this, I chose the floor inside my apartment in front of my balcony door. When the wind blows, I can hear my wind chimes. When it rains, I can see and hear the storm. When the sun rises, I can watch. I keep a soft blanket close for chilly mornings. Until my luscious sheepskin rug got damaged, I would unroll my sheepskin and use it to anchor the space. This gave me something to “step into,” which helped the process somehow. (Now I use a cushion or pillow.) Sometimes I enhance the space by diffusing essential oils or burning incense or lighting a candle.

Choose a space that doesn’t need to be “fixed up” everyday. The fewer obstacles to your practice, the easier it will be to maintain. Use the corner of a couch, the floor of your closet, your favorite chair, your front porch, a tree outside...anywhere meaningful and within reach is perfect.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
— Phil. 4:6-7

Next, create an anointing oil for use only during this time.

I made an oil using sustainably-harvested East Indian Sandalwood, which is exotic and special to me, and blended it with myrrh essential oil. I put it in a small dropper bottle and kept it on my desk. Aromatherapy is a powerful element in any ritual, but I used this anointing oil for remembrance, because the fragrance would linger throughout the day and keep me mindful of prayer. I only used this particular oil blend during my time of prayer. When I breathed it in, I came instantly to a prayerful sense of presence.

For your sacred oil, choose something you love that is transcendent and reverent to you. Most essential oils need to be diluted for proper use, so please be sure to check yours before applying to your skin. Olive oil and sweet almond oil are excellent carriers to blend with your EOs if needed.

You can try my blend using equal amounts of East Indian Sandalwood (I prefer sustainably-harvested East Indian Sandalwood over Australian Sandalwood) & myrrh, or adjust it to your liking. Experiment until you find a blend you love.

For use, keep it in a roller bottle or dropper bottle, which are available online and in many health food stores. Store out of direct sunlight.

Finally, bring an honest heart.

Prayer can take many forms but really, prayer is just talking to the One who made you. It is connecting to your good, good Father who loves you and longs to hear from you and to be part of your life. Tell Him what you desire, what you long for, what you struggle with. Tell Him what makes you disappointed or angry. He already knows it, anyway, but have the conversation. Ask questions. Offer gratitude. As I was finding my “prayer voice,” at first I felt shy. But eventually it became the most natural and beautiful thing I could imagine.

Give yourself permission to be real. Say what you need to say. Let your prayers find their way.

And so, my daily ritual...

How to Create a Soulful Prayer Ritual by Hillary McFarland.png

It is so beautifully simple. Every morning, after my husband left for work, I would unroll my sheepskin, remove my socks, gather my bottle of anointing oil, and step barefoot into this space.

I would take a few breaths.

Then I would spill a drop or two of oil on my fingers and touch my forehead, my lips and my heart in order to bring my mind, my heart, and my words into awareness and presence, knowing I was about to speak to my Creator, my Lord God. Then I would place my hands together and massage any remaining oil into my palms.

When ready, I simply began with whatever was on my heart. Sometimes I would pray for a few minutes and sometimes I would be there for an hour or two, pouring out my heart. Sometimes I would pray the Psalms. Many times I’d weep through my words.

Prayer is connection with the One who made you. Prayer is sacred space. Prayer is communion.

I truly believe that prayer is the most intimate experience a human being can have. This practice has changed my life in mysterious ways, and I hope that if you need a gentle nudge forward, this will help.

If you try this ritual, I’d love to know how it works for you! ✮

A lovely message on prayer by Pastor JD Farag:


love, hillary
Hillary McFarland