Hallow, the Prayer and Meditation App, “All That” and More
I admit to being rather curious on finding out what all the commotion is about the newest Catholic prayer app. Is it really all what the hype says it is?
I’m a regular iPhone user, and have written a few posts in the past about how I find apps and different technology that help our liturgical living and prayer life keep flowing (See Mid-Lent Technology Helps to Avoid Slump and Summer; More Time for the Lord, Not a Vacation from Him and Angelus Bells). The smart phone, iPad or computer can be utilized as a help to prayer, rather than a hindrance. I love being able to listen to Mass readings, the Divine Office, have spiritual reading and music at my fingertips. I usually use free or low cost apps, so I was eager to see if I could fit Hallow in my already full routine, and would it be a supplement or a substitute for what I have, or perhaps both?
The Hallow App claims to be the “#1 Catholic Meditation, Prayer and Sleep App.” There is a free 2-week trial option, and a choice to pay for monthly starting at $8.99, with some current annual deals running at $4.99 a month. I’ve been using the app for a week so I can really get the feel of it and incorporate it into my daily life.
Hallow is an app that gives the tools for people to slow down and put God in their daily lives, and learn what real prayer is—being in the presence of God, listening and talking with Him. But the greater emphasis here is listening. Hallow encourages putting aside time for God throughout the day. There is less emphasis on recitation of prayers and more opening for conversation with God.
The delivery of most of the app’s information is through audio bytes. The images are simple, and text while sometimes offered to read along isn’t always available, leaving the strength to the audio. The app provides for the auditory sense beautiful and meditative sounds in a world that is loud, fast-paced and anxiety-filled. Hallow aims to replace the negative with positive sounds, and fill those empty spaces with something beautiful for God.
Initially I did not find the app very intuitive. The home screen doesn’t provide a written “how to use the app” section. The only option is a section entitled “Not sure where to start?” which provides an Intro to start with the basics. There are 9 sessions that walk through samples of the 3 methods of prayer: Christian Meditation, Examen and Lectio Divina. I prefer reading my instructions first before I start, so I really didn’t want to spend more than 20 minutes listening, trying to find my way around. I have since found that if you go to the website there is an “How to Pray” page that has multiple explanations on each aspect of prayer that is found on the app. I personally prefer having how and why pages, but that probably is a reflection of my age.
On the leading page, there is a short questionnaire to help you set up the app. There are questions as to what are your reasons for using the app. One of the answers was for better sleep and another to reduce stress. The sleep and stress aspect surprised me, but after asking around to family members who already use the app, that was the first reason they started using the app, and have been hooked since. I realized that this Catholic app can really excel (and replace) the highly marketed Calm and Sensa apps. And Hallow not only can help build one’s mental health, but it’s also helping build a relationship with Christ!
The app itself is not that intuitive. There isn’t a clear list of categories, which is fine, but it takes some time to use it. I keep discovering new items. It’s not that easy to navigate, nor does the app remember where I was after I close one area. It always takes me back to the home screen.
There are three main types of prayer Hallow provides: Daily Examen, Christian Meditation and Lectio Divina, with categories including: Daily Prayers such as the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, short Reflections, Gospel readings and reflections, spiritual reading, readings of the saints, praying with music, praying with children, and so much more. Even the Bible in a Year podcast by Father Mike Schmitz is included in this app. The episodes are actually organized by sections, so following is more in context than just clicking on the next podcast on the list.
There is a music section, and the current feature is Summer Music selections. At first I thought I wouldn’t be interested in the music, but there really is something for everyone: Praise and Worship, Catholic lo-fi to study and relax, folk worship with music including from the Hillbilly Thomists (listen to the Catholic Culture podcast interview with Thomas Mirus and Fr. Joseph Hagan, O.P.). There is also instrumental music and Gregorian Chant from the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey.
There are guest “voices” like Dr. Scott Hahn, Mark Walberg, Jim Caviezel, Sr. Miriam, James Heidland and so many more. These guests read and lead meditations or prayers. Having a variety of ways to follow along the rosary with different voices is a great option.
A feature I particularly am enjoying is the offering of spiritual reading, about a chapter for each session. The current books being read are Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Philippe and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Each “session” is approached as a time for mental prayer, beginning and ending with the Sign of the Cross. I can choose to read along on my phone to help me concentrate better on the text.
There are suggestions for Morning and Nightly Routines, incorporating aspects from the liturgy, including the Mass and Divine Office. Right now there is Night Prayer, and I’d love to see it expand to include Morning and Evening Prayer and the Office of Readings. (I know there are text copyright issues, so I won’t hold my breath.) I can personalize the app to set reminders, and plan a prayer routine for the day. It can play the next chapter from where I stopped the last time. There is also a feature for some of the meditations that I can choose a shorter or longer length, and I can “skip intro.” That makes it easier to squeeze in sound bytes no matter how little time I have.
One part of prayer that isn’t as emphasized is how we are all connected as a community. With Jesus as the Vine and we as the branches, everything we do affects one another. Across the app there is a simple view of seeing how many others are praying with you as a community. But there are also community options to have challenges and you can join an existing group or gather your own to create more community.
What I don’t really like is the ultra slow speed of most of the voices. I know the app is encouraging me to slow down, but I find speaking too slowly and in an affected manner is actually more distracting. Thankfully there are options to change the playback speed up to 1.5 times. It’s a great option, but it doesn’t remember my settings. I’m used to podcast apps allowing me to choose a speed across the platform, but also change speeds (and retain that information) for particular podcasts. To have my settings saved would be a welcome improvement.
There are some mental health meditations and some sleep helps, all with a sleep timer to help with the nighttime unwinding. You can choose background noises in any module (and this feature is remembered), so I can have white noise, rain, nature sound, ambient tones, Gregorian chant, ocean waves, and more. Another improvement I’d suggest is allowing me to “program” several prayers or meditations to play one after another especially at nighttime, instead of having to choose a new thing each time. If I’m falling asleep I don’t want to grab my phone again.
After a week’s use, I’m hooked and I would highly recommend this app. I keep expanding its uses, and actually preferring its options to what I’m using now. I think this is a powerful everyday tool for prayer, and helpful for health and sleep, also. These beautiful audio bytes for God can aid us in an authentic conversation with Christ and deepen our relationship with Him.
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