5 outdoor spots for prayer, reflection in Virginia

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Bumper-to-bumper traffic, hefty bills, household chores, recurring health problems - these are just a few of the burdens of everyday life. Other times, we find ourselves with real conundrums at home or at the office. No matter the stressor, all of us need a place to relax, think and count our blessings from time to time.

Here are five outdoor spots in Virginia where you can pray and reflect in peace and silence, free of charge:

1. Mill Mountain in Roanoke

The drive from Northern Virginia to Roanoke alone can be therapeutic, at least when the weather's clear and the trucks on Interstate 81 are few. While the city itself enjoys a slower Appalachian pace, even that may prove too busy for a more reflective mood. If that's the case, walk or drive to the top of Mill Mountain, a pleasant respite at the southern edge of town. Sit below the Roanoke Star, an 88-foot neon structure that's touted as the largest man-made illuminated star in the world. There, you'll get an eyeful of the Roanoke Valley, including downtown Roanoke.

The nearest Catholic parish, St. Andrew Church, is on North Jefferson Street, about a15-minute drive away.

2. The John Tansey Overlook in Richmond

The John Tansey Overlook is one of those rare urban spots that feels both separate from and a part of the city at the same time because it's tucked away on a dead-end road. You'll see the hustle and bustle of the city, but you won't really hear it. Located in Richmond's oldest neighborhood, Church Hill, the overlook houses a single bench with a view of the Shockoe Hill district, downtown skyscrapers, the Medical College of Virginia and more. To get there from downtown, head east on Broad Street, then make a right on North 22nd Street and then another right on East Grace Street.

The overlook is just past Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center focused on Christian stewardship. The closest Catholic parish, St. Patrick Church, located on North 25th Street, is within walking distance.

3. Mary Washington Monument and Meditation Rock in Fredericksburg

Maybe you don't have to pray for the safety of your son during the Revolutionary War, as Mary Washington did, but you can still pray at the same spot as George Washington's mother. Her Meditation Rock is near Kenmore Plantation, where her daughter Betty and her husband lived, by the intersection of Washington Avenue and Pitt Street. The shaded area lies behind the Mary Washington Monument, an obelisk completed in 1894, and the Gordon Cemetery, in honor of the family that lived at Kenmore from 1819 to 1859.

The nearest Catholic parish is St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church, which is about a mile away on Washington Avenue.

4. Belle Haven Park & Marina in Alexandria

Speaking of the Washington clan, all of us are familiar with Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate, but there's a park not too far from it that also gets you close to the Potomac River. Alexandria's Belle Haven Park is flanked by the George Washington Memorial Parkway on one side and open water on the other. Though the park gets busy on warm weather holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day, it's large enough to afford everyone their personal space. Bring food for the many waterfowl that flock there, and sit at a picnic table for as long as you like.

Blessed Sacrament Church and Good Shepherd Church are both within about a 15-minute drive.

5. Helena Labyrinth in Goochland

When Elizabeth Tippett moved to Goochland, she decided to turn her backyard into a place where people could engage "with the idea of a mini pilgrimage" and "access nature step by step." So she built a 40-foot wide labyrinth using quartz and other rocks, as well as herbs and succulents, and named it Helena Labyrinth. People of any faith may walk the labyrinth (though she asks that you call her at 804/909-2809 if you wish to visit at night), which is on Tippett's property. Her home is located at 905 Newsome Court, Goochland.

St. John Neumann Church in Powhatan is a 25-minute drive south and St. Mary Church in Henrico is a 27-minute drive west of Helena Labyrinth.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015