Prayer is a conversation, although rather an odd one, which is why we can perhaps sometimes find it rather difficult, but in the oddness of the recent months I’ve come across an analogy which might be helpful. The telephone message.
During this time the monastery office has not been staffed and so we have relied on people leaving phone messages, mostly answered by me, or not, although I do have a good excuse for this. It isn’t that I’m only responsible for telephone policy and that actually dealing with people is the responsibility of an executive agency, which we might call OffMessage, (or Ofmess for short). No, alas it’s my job to answer the phone. But we are curiously bad at leaving messages. Often there’s surprise, “oh, gosh, yes, er, well, um…”, then there’s an certain shyness, “My name is….(something inaudible)”, then often a sort of prolix vagueness about why a message is being left involving a lot of umm-in and ah-ing before we get to the point. Then lastly a telephone number that comes in a sudden mumbled torrent.
The problem, of course is that we have expected to talk to someone, and it seems that there is no one there to listen. There is of course, but we are put off and bumble and mumble our way through. Which is where we get back to prayer. Here we are in a curious one sided conversation, not because no one is listening, but because God has already heard, already has always known what we might say, or think, or desire, even beyond words. Prayer is a bit like Confession, in which we are not telling God some secret that’s gone unnoticed. Instead we are telling ourselves, hearing ourselves aloud: this is me, this is what I do, this is what I need, and, if our prayer is ever to have an answer, how might I listen and respond. To do this we need to give time and attention, thinking or speaking s-l-o-w-l-y and CLEARLY, so we can hear ourselves.
Three simple steps in prayer: who am I? What do I (really) need? How can I hear and respond? If we are stuck we can even use words. Three simple steps. They are quite useful for leaving messages too.