Listening Prayer

listen-symbol in Chinese

“If you have ears to hear, listen,” Jesus repeatedly says. It is the first act of the art of prayer, the middle act, and the last act.  Over time we find the wisest and most humble among us understand prayer to be “nothing but listening.”

In 1980 Dan Rather interviewed Mother Teresa:

Dan Rather: “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa: “I don’t say anything; I listen.”

DR: “Well, then, when God speaks to you, what does he say?”

MT: “He doesn’t say anything. He listens…  and if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it.”

Quoted in “with” by Skye Jethani

Inexplicable, but not without gaining understanding. Learning to pray often reveals our constant novice status when we think we ought to have graduated. But as Mother Teresa reveals, we are always just learners, we are always just listeners.

Today’s poem/prayer come from award winning author, Madeleine L’Engle. May we find ourselves wordless enough to “hold our peace and listen with the heart.”

I, who live by words, am wordless when
I try my words in prayer. All
language turns
To silence. Prayer will take my words
and then
Reveal their emptiness. The stifled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart
To silence that is joy, is adoration.
Madeleine L’Engle


About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
This entry was posted in Poems, Prayers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Listening Prayer

  1. Kathy Sperling says:

    Thanks for this Rusty…This is so true for me. And recently I am getting more and more requests on how to be silent in this way. Perhaps you will explore this as well?
    Appreciate your writing…K

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kathy, and yes – exploring this more only reminds me of my “novice” status in learning to be silent – however much silence I have practiced. Merton said we “cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner, and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments… We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners all our life!”
      Continuing as a beginner then. Thanks for the encouragement!


  2. Dede says:

    But what do you do when you need guidance from God and none is forthcoming? I listen, I pray and listen again. It’s as though God decided not to help me decide what to do with my future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Dede, I dare not suggest a trite answer to a profound question. What you express is part of “our” experience, and not just yours alone – though I suspect this is cold comfort. Being alone in the spiritual journey contributes to our vulnerability. We need spiritual friendships precisely because and when we do not “sense” our hearing, or sense God’s listening. My friend Kathy spoke to this in:

      I try to get at this in:

      As a regular reader of your blog, I vicariously suffer your story, and again, it would be cold comfort to share my own experiences of injustice, of existential silence, and of the inner heart pain of this short life: all this to say, that it is in and through this journey that sometimes (often?) prayer takes the form of silent screams till we can be comforted. I have learned that I do not tell God what to do – but I have also learned to tell Him (yell at Him) more honestly as I’ve grown older.

      It is in friendship – in communion that we can bear our lives. Excuse my ignorance, but I encourage you to find, if you haven’t already, a fellowship brave enough, faithful enough, and honest enough to listen and be listened to. Please don’t mistake this merely as “find a church” – though this is embedded in my encouragement.

      Please forgive me if my response is unsolicitedly pastoral, but the final thing I would encourage is seeking the One who made you for Himself. You will have no better focus than to focus on the One who loves you, and who waits for your hearing.

      I leave you with Fenelon’s prayer that might be something you can take as you own:

      So sorry to use mere words when what would be better by far is a face to face conversation. I can only assume you have someone(s) in your life with whom you can share your heart about life & prayer with God.

      Grace to you.


  3. Pingback: Learning God’s Language: Prayer | Curriculum of the Spiritual Life

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