Praying More Deeply

Prayer is a conversation in which God’s word has the initiative and we,

 for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners.

The essential thing is for us to hear God’s word

 and discover from it how to respond to him.

– Balthasar, Prayer

As you to seek to know the love of God by coming to God simply to receive and to listen, you may find that  it is immensely more difficult than it sounds.  There is an openness and trustful vulnerability required which may be characterized as self-sacrificial.  But I hope you became aware of God’s grace in prayer – this grace which both initiates and enables – such that our self-surrender requires, not our work, but merely our consent to the work which the Holy Spirit seeks to do in us.  It is God who works in us to will and to act, and we give God our consent.  Remember that prayer is gift involving the gift of Godself!  So when I say that prayer is gift I also mean that communion with God in prayer is gift.  A friend commented, “How awesome it is that God is listening to us as we pray, and better yet, that He wants to speak to us.”  Since God is listening to you as you pray, God invites you to reflect that listening by listening to God.  In other words, our attentiveness to God is the reflection or reciprocal response of the prior attentiveness of God.  When we become aware of God’s attentiveness we can not help but give God our attention.  Likewise, our self-surrender to God is in reciprocity to the self-giving of God.  And so too, our capacity to love God is a gift received in our being loved by God.  Therefore, keep seeking to know the love of God in faith and trustful openness.

Now, perhaps it would be worthwhile to reflect on where this listening is going on within us.  I don’t want us to be straining and waiting to hear some thought pop into our heads, or trying to feel something.  No, that is not what we mean by deeper prayer.  Nor are we referring here to other valid and necessary forms of prayer, such as petition.  It is more a way of becoming than an activity which one does.  Deeper prayer relates to that aspect of our personhood which, though integrated with them, lies beyond the faculties of reason and emotion; (that is, in so far as the listening goes, though our response may involve these.)  This is actually wonderful news because it means that “hearing” God is open to all who are in Christ independent of temperament and gender.  As Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it, “The question ‘How can we hear God’s word?’ is answered thus:  we can, because we are in the Word” (Prayer, 58).  And here is the point we Protestants tend to forget:  although we do well to listen to the written and preached word of God exterior to us, we do less well at listening to the indwelling Word interior to us.  Yet as Augustine asserts, God is in us at our deepest ground, “more inward to me than I am to myself.”  We are designed for dialogue with God, and in our innermost self we are already open to God.  Therefore, attentiveness to God includes attentiveness to your deepest self.  Remember, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

I hope that helps.  Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Like a well, the nature of our innermost self is readiness, receptivity, surrender.  It is like a room ready made and built for the divine Guest at our very center.  The effort of deeper prayer, therefore, involves cleaning up this room and making it more habitable.

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