I tell my Sunday School students, “”If your grandma lived 2000 miles away, would you only call her once a year and begin the conversation by begging for birthday gifts?” They usually say, “no” and tell me stories about how often they talk to Grandma. They have some awareness that it’s not polite or respectful to beg. (I guess they make an exception to that rule when the person they are talking to is Mom!)
So they begin to get the idea that prayer is not about sharing a list of demands, couched as requests, for help. But I also want them to understand that whole idea of “distance.” If we don’t see someone very often, we don’t really know them. We may say, “Hi Grandpa. I love you.” But do we really? Knowing someone requires frequent contact and watching them to understand who they really are. Who is Grandpa? What kind of person is he? How does he think?
In a similar way, it may seem as if God is far away. And it may seem impossible to really know God. But we really can get to KNOW Him. It is possible. It requires several things.
God reveals Himself to us if we read the Bible. He reveals Himself to us if we study the life of Jesus and comments of the saints. He reveals Himself to us mostly especially during prayer. But prayer requires talking, listening and trusting.
St. Teresa of Avila was a great teacher about prayer. In a book called Conversations with Christ, the author, Peter Thomas Rohrback, summarizes Teresa’s practice for deeper prayer.
1. Beginning- Be aware of Jesus. He is here. Now.
2. Selection--Read a short passage about Jesus or visualize a picture of Him. Teresa often referred to the image of Jesus in the Garden or the Scourging at the Pillar. I find it helpful to SEE Him in my mind based on images I have seen.
3. Consider the Love of Jesus--Reflect on this image or the words to go deeper into the mystery and love of Jesus. Why is Jesus in the Garden, dripping with blood? What does it mean?
4. Conversation--Converse with Our Lord. Offer adoration, praise, express sorrow, love, thanksgiving. Then be quiet to LISTEN.
5. Conclusion—Reflect on this time of prayer. Offer thanks. Dedicate yourself to greater focus and attention.
The author describes a process of coming back to Jesus frequently throughout the day. This can be done by short repeated phrases or prayers. O my Jesus, help me. Our priest says often, “God is good.” A friend says, “Thank you Jesus.”
My young Sunday School students may not really grasp all of this. But I hope to get them thinking about HOW they talk to God. And HOW will they get to KNOW HIM. We don’t have to rely only on formalized prayers.
My neighbor told a story about being hospitalized. She asked if they would give her a thicker gown, so the nurse found a heavy green one. Lillian went down the hallway to stretch her legs. A man in another room thought she was a nurse and called out, “Could you pray with me?” He was a tough, working class fellow. Lillian talked out loud to God on the man’s behalf. She used her own words and talked to God as a trusted friend.
Awhile later the hospital chaplain tracked her down. He said the man in that room told him, “The lady in green prays better than you.” He wanted to know what she did.
Lillian said, “I just talked to God in my own words. You don’t need to open up a book and read. That man just wants you to give him permission to talk to God from his heart.”