“Lord, teach us to pray…” -John 11:1
Since I don’t remember going through it myself, it has been a fascinating exercise observing my children as they learn how to speak. Each of them begins with no clue whatsoever where to start – so they do the only thing they know how to do: they cry. Eventually those cries become sounds that represent something – usually, their best imitation of the sound they think represents their needs. The sounds become words, and once the words become sentences: look out, because many of us don’t stop communicating once we get started!
As I write this, my fourth child is making a great effort to copy the sounds he hears the rest of us saying in a desperate effort to make his wishes known to us. Sometimes these sounds make no sense at all – so he repeats them, louder and louder in hopes that we will figure it out… and when he gets through to us, the joy he feels is palpable. Eventually, he’ll find his words – and his voice – and he’ll be able to talk and listen as well as anyone else (and I look forward to that day – I still have no idea what he means 95% of the time.)
Learning to pray is not that much unlike learning to talk. At first, it may feel like trying to communicate with God is beyond our capacity. So we cry out to Him – usually in a moment of need. But if crying for what we want is all that we do, we may find that the ‘relationship’ part of being close to God is lacking – so we seek for words. Our first words in prayer are usually those copied from others – the Lord’s prayer, Hail Mary, or even the lyrics of a particularly moving hymn or song. These borrowed words are always with us – and are often helpful for getting the conversation started. However, to grow in prayer means that we need to regularly move beyond the words of others and find our own voice – conversing with God using our own words (and listening to His reply.)
For many of us, however, the idea of conversing with God is a long ways off, and you might be unsure on where to start. I’m going to spend some time breaking open the words of several traditional Catholic prayers – to help get you started and to help you find more meaning in some of our rote prayers. One of the resources I’m going to use for this series is a book by one of my favorite Catholic authors, Amy Welborn, “The Words we Pray.” If you want to read it yourself, you’ll find that Amy goes much deeper into these prayers than I can on a blog – and several prayers I likely won’t get to.
So as you seek to deepen your own life of prayer – to find your own words (and learn to listen to His) – I pray that this series will be a blessing to you. (And don’t forget to pray for me!)