If you want to learn how to speak to God, then first you need to learn how to listen to God. In fact, if you can learn how to listen really well, you’ll find that the need to speak to God pretty much dissipates.
Consider the Gospel of Matthew 6:7:
When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
And Saint Paul reminds the Romans:
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Indeed, before we can even articulate the need, before we even realize that we have a need, the Holy Spirit is already there, passing it on to the one who “searches our hearts.” Before we speak God knows.
What does that mean? It means that when we call on God that is the functional equivalent of God calling on us. There is no gap – spatially or temporally – between those two actions. All that we truly long for is union with God. We want to remember our fundamental oneness. We want to remember that we are not separated from God.
And that is all God wants as well.
Thus, we approach communication with God in a spirit of confidence, knowing that there is nothing we need to say or do in order to “get our prayer right.” We aren’t going to educate God. We aren’t going to teach God something He doesn’t know. Given that, our real concern ought not be learning how to speak to Him, but rather focusing on His reply. Speak God speak! In other words, how do we listen and how do we heed the response of God? How do we know when God is talking to us? Or listening to us? If I cry out “God help me,” what happens? And how will I know?
We are bound to God’s word because the Word is all and we are it. That is our inheritance.
My response to those excellent questions has been consistent now for a long time. First, I have a lot to learn about both listening to and speaking with God. And second? God’s voice is always a quiet voice. And it’s not necessarily the first voice I hear.
So attention matters . . .
Our relationship with the divine is intensely personal. There is no cookie cutter approach to prayer that will work, and there is no church or religion or spiritual ideology that has it down pat. If you want to meet God, you are going to have to venture into the interior wilderness and you are going to have to do it alone. That’s what deserts are for. At some point – no matter how much credit you give understanding Buddhism and its awesome meditations and koans, no matter how much you embrace contemplative Christian prayer, no matter how much you give yourself to a spiritual walk through the woods in the tradition of Thoreau – you are going to be alone with God.
Or rather – you are going to be alone with the emptiness that precedes God. This is the upside down world, the space where all the rules vanish, all your perceptions go awry. It’s that moment in Indiana Jones when he has to step into thin air before the bridge will appear. It’s faith and willingness, blending together to create the very temple where God comes and rests with you and you with God.
God is beyond understanding. Thomas Merton, paraphrasing, in part, Saint Augustine, said that God resides in the hidden center of our heart.
. . . the deepest psychological ground of one’s personality, the inner sanctuary where self-awareness goes beyond analytical reflection and opens out into metaphysical confrontation with the Abyss of the unknown yet present – one who is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.
God is in all things and all things are in God.
The leap of faith – the trust that God will hear and respond despite the absence of immediate proof – is essential to the fruitful evolution of our relationship with GodThis has become essential to my understanding and practice of prayerful communication with God. I know that many sincere Christians take umbrage at this. Yet there is a ample doctrinal precedent. We only have to look at the beginning of John’s gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
“In the beginning was the Word . . .” This is not language as we traditionally understand it. This is source, akin to the “om” of Vedantic tradition, that energy – that “isness” – that is God. It surpasses time and space, it is neither cause nor effect, it merely is. We are bound to God’s word because the Word is all and we are it. That is our inheritance.
So what works for me? Quiet works. Walks in the forest and fields are good. The early morning – before anyone in the house or neighborhood is up seem to be effective. Sometimes I sit on a zafu, but more often I simply pull a chair to the window and watch the light change. Readiness, attentiveness are the hallmarks. I don’t say it’s easy but I will say it’s simple. I also won’t say that God comes through clear and perfect every morning, but He often does. And the song is with me always and everywhere.