Prayer: the use of language or the absence of words directed to the One who made us for Himself, for reasons as wide as the sky, or for no other reason than to listen.
In posts like “What language shall I borrow?” and “Wanting to be Heard“, I have explored prayer from our beggarly posture as people impoverished both with and without words. In other words, even when we have words, we are in as much need as when we are without.
Despite our impoverishments, we still learn to pray from this most elementary position. Margaret Silf says in the same way that we are “born with the innate potential to form every known sound in every human language” – so is our potential to learn God’s language of prayer. You need not be an expert; in fact you can’t be one; only children or the childlike pray best.
“[Children’s] first attempts at speech are a medley of Babel noises – and indeed, their speech would stay like that were it not for one thing. They all, even the least loved and cared for among them, hear all round them the sounds of one particular human language – their native language. They learn to speak intelligibly… first by listening, and then by copying the sounds they hear. Quite simply, they learn the language of those to whom they are closest. A baby whose mother spends time holding her child and talking to it will become articulate more quickly than one who is left alone all day.
The same dynamic seems to apply in the way we learn to express the deepest desires and movements of our hearts. We will express ourselves in the language of the One to whom we are closest. Like a baby, our langue will be formed by those we are close to. The further we draw away from God, the more garbled will be our hearts’ self-expression, until it reverts to the chaos of Babel. The closer we stay to God, the more surely our deeper desires will form around Him and His desire for us, and the more our way of being will be conformed to His.
At first our desires crowd around like a baby’s first babbling, but slowly our words are forming. We are writing the words of our own personal song of love. It begins in listening and leads to imitation. It draws us, word by word, prayer by prayer, into relationship with the Word, until all our words are superseded and we are ready to be with Him in a union of silence.
How do we learn to pray?
We just begin to listen and talk with the One to whom we are closest. A great place to begin to listen is God’s own word in scripture. Silf encourages us to begin with what she calls “imaginative meditation” on the encounters with Jesus in the gospels.
What have you learned about prayer so far?