My mom and me looking pious for a program in church about 1955.
That’s something I’ve been trying to learn ever since I was a little kid. I remember the first prayer I ever learned: “God bless our food. Amen.” I said that prayer and then my brother and sister said the Norwegian table prayer, and then we could eat. My mother never had the patience to teach me the Norwegian prayer.
In kindergarten, I learned the prayer I still use before meals, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” When my sister (eleven years older than me) went away to college, my mother dropped the Norwegian prayer, and whoever was at the table recited the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer. It was easier for everyone. And, I guess that prayer let God know we appreciated God’s providing for our physical needs even if the words were English. The prayer didn’t have to be in Norwegian.
As I grew older, I sometimes thought that we should say a more mature prayer like visiting ministers or missionaries would sometimes say, something like “Our Father, thank you for the food that Thou hast provided, and for the hands that have prepared it…” When I was asked to pray in front of guests, I sometimes tried to say something like that, but was never quite sure I was saying it right. I hated to be asked to do the prayer. It didn’t feel like I was talking with God with that kind of prayer. I was doing a ritual for the approval of the guests around the table.
My bedtime prayer was always more spontaneous. Typically it was something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for keeping me safe today and for giving me a good day. Take care of mother and daddy, Nancy and Danny, grandma…” and whoever else I was thinking about that evening.
In Sunday School and confirmation classes, I learned that my prayer should include several sections: praising God, thanking God for specific gifts to me and those I love, praying for the needs of others, and lastly, praying for my own needs. My bedtime prayers got longer, more inclusive, and more structured.
But praying before meals and at bedtime didn’t really cover all the times I felt I wanted to talk with God about something. Inevitably, there were moments of crisis when I wanted to pray to God for help or protection – like needing to do well on a particular test in college, or walking alone on a street in Chicago when I sensed someone was following me. That’s when I really wanted God to hear me, and I wanted to have God reassure me that I wasn’t alone.
As my understanding of how to talk with God continued to develop, I discovered that music was an amazing way to communicate some of my thoughts and feelings to God, and to gain new insights into what types of communication were possible with God. One old gospel song that helped me envision what my relationship with God could be like was “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles.
I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses;
and the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.
Over the years, music has become one of the most meaningful ways for me to visit with God. I don’t sing, but I take a hymnal, sit down at the piano and pray the words as I’m playing the music. I can spend hours having a conversation with God through the hymnal.
A few years ago I came upon the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I’ve mentioned this book several times in this blog. It’s a book of daily devotional writings, with each day’s entry written as though Jesus is talking directly to me. Scripture citations are listed at the bottom of the entry as proof that the Bible really does say those things. This book has been very helpful to me in making my conversations with God true dialogs rather than just me stating my immediate concerns. Here’s today’s entry.
Welcome challenging times as opportunities to trust Me. You have Me beside you and My Spirit within you, so no set of circumstances is too much for you to handle. When the path before you is dotted with difficulties, beware of measuring your strength against those challenges. That calculation is certain to riddle you with anxiety. Without Me, you wouldn’t make it past the first hurdle!
The way to walk through demanding days is to grip My hand tightly and stay in close communication with Me. Let your thoughts and spoken words be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. Regardless of the day’s problems, I can keep you in perfect Peace as you stay close to Me.
James 1:2; Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 26:3
I know I’m not alone in wanting to know how to have a conversation with God, because the disciples also asked Jesus how to pray. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus told them, “… whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Then Jesus went on to say what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”
So what prompted me to write about talking with God today? Saturday I participated in a centering prayer workshop at Whispering Winds. Prior to this workshop I had a vague understanding that centering prayer was a Christian form of meditation, somewhat similar to the meditation practices of eastern religions. Saturday’s workshop was led by three leaders who had been trained by Contemplative Outreach, the organization founded by Fr. Thomas Keating in the 1970’s to develop methods of reviving the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. (More about centering prayer and this organization is on their website www.contemplativeoutreach.org.)
In the workshop we learned practices to help us quiet our mind and sit silently with our eyes closed for periods of 20 minutes or longer. At this point, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat intrigued by centering prayer, although I’m not about to say it’s the “sliced bread” of prayer. The process of sitting still and emptying our minds of distracting thoughts so that God can fill us is suggested by the Psalm that I have always loved reading, “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10]
One of the key messages from Saturday’s workshop was that as we continue to develop our own personal relationship with God, prayer – or communication with God – takes on many forms, not just one. I can still say “Come, Lord Jesus…” and know that I’m including God in our mealtime. I can pray for my friends and family and others as I understand their needs. I can worship God and ask for help in my life by spending time at the piano with a hymnal. I can read the Bible in a variety of forms to hear God speaking to me. I can go for a walk and hear what God has to say through the songbirds and the rippling brook just down the road from Whispering Winds. And, I can sit silently in a straight-backed chair with my eyes closed for 20 minutes of centering prayer.
God wants to talk to me – and you – just as much as we want to talk with God. We have a lifetime to learn all the ways to do that.