During the first couple of weeks here (“first probation” in Jesuit speak) we had a couple of conferences on prayer. At first, this seemed a bit strange to me. I dislike the idea of making prayer in any way mechanical – like putting coins into a slot. And I definitely disliked the idea that God would somehow respond to any particular technique. Wouldn’t it be better, I wondered, simply to say to God whatever was on my heart?
Well, I still think that speaking from the heart is the best way to pray. But the experience of trying out different kinds of prayer in the novitiate has actually proved quite helpful. In particular, it has made me reflect on how my prayer relies upon the action of God’s Spirit in my understanding, memory, and imagination. Here’s what I noticed.
Quiet Listening. When I first felt a call to become a Jesuit, my first reaction was to ignore and suppress it – even in my prayer. I wanted to speak to God rather than listen to Him, because I was afraid of what I might hear. Being simply quiet before Him continues to be difficult for me. But I feel increasingly sure that I must begin by listening rather than speaking, if my prayer is to be obedient (a word etymologically based upon “listen”). Sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament is a privileged place to do this.
Lectio Divina. I was blessed with a Protestant upbringing which emphasized God’s self-communication in the Bible. As a result, the meditative reading of Scripture in “lectio divina” comes fairly natural to me. In this kind of prayer, I seek especially to conform my mind to God’s word. When, for example, I read Mary’s “be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), I try to make that my own attitude too. Internalizing Scripture in this way is different from the academic study of Scripture (as useful as that can be in its own place).
In my next blog post I will outline my experience with two more Ignatian kinds of prayer that draw on memory and imagination . . .