by Father Robert Lauder
I am starting to write this column shortly after engaging in centering prayer. Part of centering prayer is being silent with God, giving God time to speak to you. I notice that more and more in homilies I urge members of the congregation to set aside time to listen to God. This column is being written because I now feel compelled to try to say what I mean by urging people to listen to God. Often centering prayer ends with the person just enjoying God’s presence. While the person praying may be silent, God may be speaking. I believe that God is.
In recent years I have become very aware of people not listening. I am surprised how often people interrupt one another. Just a few days ago I gave a lecture and I said something that apparently disturbed someone in the audience. When the person publicly disagreed with what she thought I had said, I tried to explain what I meant. Each time I tried, the person interrupted. She seemed unable to listen to me. She thought she knew what my statement meant and though I tried to explain to her that it did not mean what she thought it meant, my effort was in vain. This is not an isolated incident in my experience. Often I find that in a private conversation I am interrupted in the middle of some statement that I am trying to make. Whether others have the same experience of being interrupted in conversations I don’t really know but I wonder if one of the reasons that people might have for not listening is that all of us are under various pressures and many of us live at a very hectic pace.
The importance of listening to God has become more central in my own understanding of the Christian life. Reading a number of contemporary theologians has also convinced me that one of the problems that makes religion irrelevant to many people today is that people cannot be still, cannot reflect on what is most important in life. Though I can try to help students at St. John’s University to be more reflective through the study of philosophy, and though I can try in homilies and columns to call people to personal reflection, I keep hoping for some magical solution that will impress upon some of my contemporaries the importance of living an examined life, the importance of personal reflection upon how they are living and why they are living as they are. Of course I also have to remind myself to be more reflective.
When I say that at times when we are praying we should be silent and listen to God I do not mean that we are going to hear a voice. That has never happened to me. What I mean when I say that God will speak to us is that in our silence God will communicate with us. In centering prayer we are not present to God to make petitions nor are we present to God to tell God our problems. In centering prayer we try to be present to God Who is always present to us in a way similar to how two friends might be present to one another.
One of the problems that I have had in praying is that I have tended to think of God as statically present to me, almost like an observer. I tend to think of God as an onlooker. Of course this is a false view of God. In our lives God is actively present. When we pray God is not just a listener. In fact we could not even pray except that God calls us, touches us, invites us. God gives us the grace that enables us to turn to God. So God is active even before we become active, even before we raise our minds and hearts toward God.
I imagine that God wants all of us to enter more deeply into the love relationship that God has initiated with us. Perhaps if we are silent in the presence of God, we will be able to hear how this God is calling us into this deeper relationship. It might be through some insight we receive into ourselves when we are silent before God, it might be through some insight we receive into the mystery of God when we are silent in God’s presence. Of course I cannot predict how God will communicate with any of us, not even with me.
Though I cannot predict how God will communicate with any of us in our silence, I believe we should be very confident that God will communicate.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.