Lord, teach us to pray! One of the disciples asked Jesus after having seen Him in prayer and what follows will become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus did not give a lengthy discourse on prayer; rather He taught His disciples the simple way of addressing God as Father and entrusting all to His care. The Lord’s Prayer can be said to be the summation of all that Jesus had taught His disciples about prayer. Jesus showed His disciples that prayer was not something that was reserved to the religiously devout and the priests of the temple but everyone can pray because prayer is about communicating with God as Father.
The question put by the disciples has been asked many times over the centuries because communicating with God can take on many different forms but all with one objective. Every person who wants to draw closer to God will try to find the “ideal” way of prayer. One of the first few books I picked up to read when I entered the seminary was Introduction to Devout Life by St Francis de Sales. In this book St Francis de Sales opens up the path to holiness and it was here that I became exposed to Christian meditation which till today has remained an integral part of my prayer life. Yet I recognise that this is not the only form of prayer. Each person has to find the most suitable form of prayer – the most “effective” way of communicating with God.
In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. St Therese presents prayer as a way of life because she understood that prayer affects life and life affects prayer. For many, prayer is the time for making requests to God and thus our prayer becomes a monologue and verbose. If prayer is communicating with God, prayer is also giving time for God to speak to us. God speaks to us in the depths of our hearts and in order to be able to hear Him, we need to quieten ourselves. Herein lies our problem today…many people are afraid of silence. Our days are filled with so much of noise that we feel uncomfortable with silence. I have even noticed that during the Eucharistic celebration, when there is a prolonged silence, people get uncomfortable. Some begin to wonder whether the choir or the lector has forgotten their part and people start looking at each other. Are we afraid of silence?
The words of the Psalmist, Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:11) reminds us that we need to befriend silence if we want to hear God. Jesus Himself retreated to quiet places, away from the crowds and also His disciples, to be alone with His Father. Many saints insisted on silence as part of the prayer experience. Since we live in a world that is filled with activities that produce so many external “noises”, if we want to rediscover the joy of prayer, we need to find time to be quiet with the Lord like Mary who chose the better part by sitting at the feet of Jesus and enjoying His presence.