instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A simple conversation

What do you do if you want to talk over something with someone? Depending on where they are, you might call them on the phone, or walk down the hall to their office, or sit next to them in the cafeteria, or clear your throat at the breakfast table. You say, "There's something I want to talk over with you," then you describe whatever it is, say, "What do you think?", and listen to their answer.

It's a natural conversational pattern that applies as much to God as to your spouse or co-worker. As enumerated by Fr. Barranger last night (and paraphrased by me today), the steps of a simple but effective form of conversational prayer are:
  1. Invoke God's presence. By, for example, saying, "I am in the presence of God."
  2. Clear your mind. You can count on God's attention; your own attention to what you're doing can take a little work.
  3. Tell God what's going on in your life. Be frank, be honest, be as forthcoming as you have time to be. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God. Sarah tried to pretend she didn't laugh at the idea of having a baby. God isn't the one fooled or hurt by hiding and pretense.
  4. Invite Him in to your whole life. Your whole life. Including the parts you'd prefer left as they are, and the parts you'd prefer not think about at all.
  5. Shut up and listen. This can be the hardest part, but it's the point of the earlier steps.
Prayer isn't magic, and inviting God into your life isn't like inviting an indulgent uncle over. God doesn't give you everything you ask for as soon as you ask for it.

But we do have the promises of Christ that God will listen and will answer. The answer may resolve an issue; it may tell you the issue will be before you for a long while yet. God does enter where we invite Him, though, and He does open when we knock.

What struck me about this when Fr. Barranger mentioned it -- and again, I'm not good at listening to what I've already heard, and I've already heard plenty of other variations on such conversational prayer -- is that it can be done in five minutes. When I've tried something like this in the past, I've tended first to take several minutes to move from liturgical-style words to common or garden speech (e.g., from sentences beginning "Eternal Father" to those beginning "Well, of course You know"), and then to meander through twenty minutes worth of nattering about the things I think I should mention ("Right, and then her aunt is having her gall bladder removed, so don't forget her, please.").

In terms of the above list, I do 1 and 2 okay, but then 3 mutates into a stream-of-consciousness monologue, and I'm tired of the whole thing before I even consider 4 and 5.

But of course stream-of-consciousness monologues are not conversations. A few seconds to center myself, two minutes of headline news, three minutes of listening to God's silent whispers. That sounds like a schedule I could stick to.