Pray without Words: The Story Behind Sparrow's Prayer

Jan 26, 2023 2:26:00 PM / by Roger Hutchison

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"Sparrow wakes up each morning, ready to sing a prayer of thanksgiving. But not today. Today his words get tangled and knotted in his beak like old yarn and straw. He feels sad and gray, and he's not sure why."

I grew up in the South, and prayer was holding hands around the table before meals. Especially at my grandparents' house.

As I wrote in my book The Painting Table, "My Mammaw's table was adorned with plain dishes and a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. There were tomatoes and squash, okra and peas. The colors of the food, fresh and jewel-like, made the table shine like a rainbow. There was no silver. There was no pretense. Excited and eager conversation moved around the table like smooth river stones being skipped across the glassy surface of a pond. We held hands. We held our breaths. We offered thanksgiving; we broke bread. I never wanted it to end."

But it did end, and as often happens, those gatherings became fewer and farther between. I also stopped praying. Not because I didn't want to communicate with God, but because I didn't understand that prayer could be more than what happened at church, or before a meal began. 

Most of all, I didn't realize that prayer could happen without words.

It was while painting at my grandmother's table that I began to understand prayer. This was the same table at which I had once played as a child and savored vibrant and delicious meals. I received her table after she died. It became my painting table. And it is where I learned to recognize that painting could be prayer.

In 2020, I began carrying my camera with me on long nature walks. While doing so, I started to notice all the different kinds of birds in our area. They were everywhere, but I was missing them. My life had gotten so full and busy. I was looking, but I had forgotten how to see.

When taking photos of birds, I try to capture their essence—their holiness. And occasionally, I capture a photo of a bird where it looks like it is praying.

This experience on the trail with my camera planted the seed for Sparrow's Prayer.

Sparrow decides to ask his friends Turtle, Mousie, and Buck for advice on how to pray. Each friend shows Sparrow a different way to pray without words, through generosity, art, and movement. As the day ends, Sparrow meditates on a rose aglow in the evening light and has an epiphany: Every living thing does what God created them to do. Each life is, itself, a prayer of thanksgiving. Often, the most powerful prayers do not include words.

Sparrow and friends teach us that we are created exactly as God intended. We each have different ways of learning, communicating, moving about, and experiencing the world around us.

"O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely."
—Psalm 139:1-4 (NRSV)

What senses might you use to pray? Discuss the following questions with kids.

  • How could you pray with touch?
  • How could you pray with taste?
  • How could you pray with your ears?
  • How could you pray with your eyes?
  • How could you pray with your sense of smell?


Click here to learn more about Roger Hutchison’s Sparrow’s Prayer.

Below are photos taken by Roger on his nature walks.










Topics: Resources

Roger Hutchison

Written by Roger Hutchison

Roger Hutchison is an author, illustrator, educator, and director of Christian Formation and Parish Life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. In addition to Sparrow's Prayer, Roger is the author of seven books, including My Favorite Color Is Blue; Sometimes: A Journey through Loss with Art and Color; and The Very Best Day: The Way of Love for Children. Roger's ambition is to use art, color, and poetic language to communicate love and promote healing and hope in today's hurting world.

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