One such normative principal for me concerns prayer. In case anyone who followed my earlier series on Mental Prayer is wondering, yes, I am still continuing on with it. In fact, for the first time in my life, my prayer life has taken wings. I have no idea where it is going, nor can I attribute it to any one particular book, method or routine. In fact, it’s almost been since I stopped forcing myself into the rigidity of fixed parameters—beyond that of adherence to a daily prayer commitment—I began to experience contemplative prayer for the first time in my life. My spiritual director confirmed that indeed it is possible to enter into contemplative prayer when one is washing dishes or doing almost any ordinary household task, although not advisable to do so when one is driving or operating dangerous machinery. But I digress.
What I was leading up to in the first paragraph was that I have always understood prayer to be ‘talking to God’. Listening to Him and hearing His answers are other matters entirely. They require much more spiritual maturity. Indeed listening to another human being, even one we think we know and love well, is no easy thing for most of us. Listening requires quieting our own minds, setting aside our own agendas and entering into a space with the other person. And yet even when we do this, we still bring ourselves into that new space. Indeed, we can’t leave our ‘self’ behind—well to certain extent, what would be the point? Presumably the person talking to us must have his/her own desire to talk to us as well. So what do we bring and what do we leave behind? Hopefully, we bring our compassion and our openness to the other person. We bring our desire to learn and be moved by what the other person has to say to us.
Now, extend that scenario to a conversation with God. He is talking to us ... or trying to. How can we or do we listen to Him? Do we attempt to squeeze Him into a few odd minutes here and there? Or do we fully enter into the time we give Him, and after presenting Him with our needs and concerns, petitions, thankfulness, sorrows, sins and ultimately our overwhelming love, adoration and worship, do we then rest in Him as we would in a lover’s arms? Can we settle quietly as His lost lamb ... rescued and now secure?
Somewhere, sometime I heard – or read – that one of the ways God speaks to us is through Holy Scripture. Not that we can use the Bible like an Ann Lander’s answer book: ask God a question and presto, open the pages to reveal God’s hidden truth for you. No, nothing like that. In fact, be very careful of doing anything like that! What I’m talking about is during your prayer time, it is often very helpful to have Holy Scripture or another favorite devotional book handy. Through these means God can and will sometimes provide words or an uncannily appropriate phrase which will touch your heart so deeply, you know without a doubt He has spoken directly to you. This is the half-remembered wisdom I wish I could trace back to its origins. I know I read it somewhere. I know it is true and that it is a reliable means of hearing His Voice.
Last night, I settled down in my bed, pulled the quilts up, propped my Bible on my knees and opened to Psalm 4. I have many, many favorite Psalms but I don’t think I ever appreciated this beautiful little song before or even paid it much attention.
A beautiful motto for the New Year, for the Epiphany and the rest of life: Trust in God. He is manifest!
My favorite parts from Psalm 4:
Answer when I call, my saving God.
In my troubles, you cleared a way;
Show me favor; hear my prayer.
Know that the LORD works wonders for the faithful;
The LORD hears when I call out.
Tremble and do not sin;
Upon your beds ponder in silence.
Offer fitting sacrifice and trust in the LORD.
Many say, "May we see better times!
LORD, show us the light of your face!"
But you have given my heart more Joy
than they have when grain and wine abound.
In peace I shall both lie down and sleep,
For you alone, LORD, make me secure.