Prayer: Friendship and Silence

by Father Robert Lauder

Eighth in a series

In recent years I think I have come to see in a deeper way how precious our friendships are. Among life’s blessings, friends must be at the very top of the list. I believe that there are few realities in our lives that are more important than friendships.
The pages in Father James Martin’s book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (HarperOne, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, 432 pages, $26.99), that he devotes to prayer as a way of being with a friend are exceptionally good.
Father Martin writes the following:
“What kind of relationship do you have if you never carve out time for the other person? One that is superficial and unsatisfying for both parties. That’s why prayer, or intentional time with God, is important if you want a relationship, a friendship, with God.
“That’s not to say that the only way to spend time with God is through private prayer. As you know by now, one hallmark of Jesuit spirituality is ‘finding God in all things.’ You can find God through worship services, reading, work, family — everything really.
One on One with God
“But, as with any friendship, sometimes you need to spend time one on one with God. Just as sometimes you need to block out time to spend with a good friend, you need to do the same with God, and to let God do this with you – assuming you want to sustain and deepen your relationship. As the book of Amos says, ‘Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment?’ (3:3)
“Seeing friends on the fly or at work or in groups in fine, but from time to time you need to give a friend undivided attention. Prayer is like that: being attentive to God. How much time are you willing to spend, one on one, with God?” (p.116)
I like what Father Martin says about friendship for at least two reasons. One is that to think of God as not only a friend but as the friend can be very beneficial. It can remind us that God’s love for us is so great that we cannot even imagine it. However much we think God loves us we can say that God loves us more than that!
The other reason that thinking of God as a friend can be beneficial is that friends are one of the most wonderful mediators through whom God is revealed to us. Friends can be like “words” from God or “messages” from God.
I find that often just being with a close friend, even if nothing earthshaking or extremely important is discussed, can be renewing and rewarding. The friend’s presence is all that is needed to have the meeting be worthwhile. Something like that can happen with God.
Afraid To Listen
For years when I spent time in prayer, I did all the talking. I don’t think I ever stopped talking to God and I can’t recall ever thinking that being silent might give God a chance to talk to me.
I wonder if I kept talking because I was afraid to allow God to enter more deeply into my consciousness and fearful that God would challenge me in some way that I did not want to be challenged.
Now silent prayer, just spending time with God without my own agenda or a list of specific intentions, is a regular practice with me. Spending time in that way with God gives God a chance to talk to me.
Father Martin’s pages on friendship with God and listening to God are exceptionally good. When our discussion group next gets together to discuss Father Martin’s ideas about prayer, I suspect that what will happen is that once again I will be receiving gifts from friends.
Next week, we’ll look at art as a way of encountering God, work as prayer and prayer that is separate from work.

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.