The word prayer hardly describes all that communion with and in God means. Prayer is being in God’s presence, any time, any place with or without words. The words communion and togetherness best describe the state of living in and with God. Prayer is a state of being with, in communion with our deepest selves wherein God’s Indwelling Spirit resides in us, and at the same time, being present to the overwhelming truth of the universe—that God is in us and that we live in God at all times whether we are aware of it or not. This truth cannot be known by our five senses, but we can hear with our inner ear God speak to us in our thoughts and dreams, we can feel the palpable presence of God at any time we tune into Him. We can know God intimately through our own persistence in spending time with Him and growing our own awareness of how present he always is to us.
We tend to think of the formal prayers in church or the petitions we present to God for ourselves and others as all that prayer is. If we limit prayer to these kinds of prayers, we are limiting God’s influence in our lives. We are keeping a proper distance between us and God. We are seeing God as outside of us, remote.
There are two direct approaches we can make to increasing our awareness of God’s presence in our lives and to coming into a direct relationship with Him. The first is through reading His word, the Bible. To use the Bible in this way, we have to set aside all that we have been taught a passage means and bring an open mind to an encounter with God. We use the method of Lectio Divina which helps us listen for what God is saying to us today, this moment, in this passage. We read it through slowly three times, listening for a word or phrase that has a special resonance for us today. After reading it through, we meditate on what God is saying to us in that word or phrase. It’s helpful then if we will write down whatever God has revealed to us. This is a daily practice, but you can follow any lectionary or other guide to the Bible.
The second direct approach to increasing our awareness of God’s presence in our lives is to meditate or to practice centering prayer. The different methods of meditation help us to quiet our ever-present and mostly negative, tiresome minds, so that we can actually hear God’s “still, small voice” described in 1 Kings 19:12. They teach us about how repetitive our minds are, how deeply engrossed in the past they are and how irrelevant they often are to the present. Also, we learn, as we find a way to set aside their influence over us, the source of all the negative thinking about ourselves. If we don’t still the mind’s loud voices, we will never hear God’s own offerings to us. I know when I first learned to meditate I quit pretty abruptly after a while, because I couldn’t stand to listen to my own thoughts—I had been pretty good at drowning them out by reading or watching TV and other methods of distraction up until then. To actually listen to them was intolerable to me. But I went back later and could actually sit with them. And so I was ready to begin to sit in God’s presence finally.
It takes quite a while to listen to the thoughts and to not be bothered by them, to not let them engage us emotionally, for that is their true power over us. In meditation you might learn a mantra to say repeatedly. In Centering Prayer you choose a word or short phrase to say when you find that your mind has wandered over into thinking again. Either way, it’s important not to berate yourself for wandering—our minds will wander off! What’s important is to not get angry at ourselves, but to gently pull ourselves back to attentiveness to God.
There is a spillover effect to sitting silently with God every day and to doing lectio divina daily—that we will notice more and more of God’s blessings and grace in our lives. We’ll be aware of His presence more and more throughout our days. This awareness of God will yield much more trust, much less anxiety and fear. Then we will learn to do whatever God suggests. His suggestions don’t always come in the silence. The other day I was eating lunch and reading a novel when I heard a suggestion for another blog post. While I was reading a novel! Or in the shower or in the car or on a break or during a meal or today at the end of my quiet time in the morning—anytime God can break through our thoughts and speak directly to us. It’s good to keep pen or paper with us or to jot in notes or to speak a voice memo onto our phones, so we don’t forget what God is saying to us.
Being in prayer with God, in silence and in Bible study bring us over time closer and closer to God. As we pay attention to his suggestions, we are releasing many attachments to what happened in the past, we begin to deal with the pain and suffering we’ve been through, we begin to own all that we are and bring ourselves, warts and all, to God in love. Blessing upon blessing, grace upon grace, God enters our lives with love. The deeper we go into a relationship with Him, the more awareness we have of the many and multiple ways He has of using us, challenging us and loving us.
Questions to ponder over the week: What is my prayer life like? Do I take time to listen to God’s “still, small voice within?” Do I hear what God is saying to me through Bible passages? Can I stand the way my mind thinks? Can I sit in stillness and just be? What kind of prayer or meditation is God calling me to?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who know God in the stillness of the moment, who can access His presence any time we turn our thoughts to Him. May we allow God to show us who He is and how He wants us to be and to do.
Link to my website for the full blog for this week and the archives of my blog going back to 2011 at bythewaters.net/blog.html.