With hands clasping my steaming cup of lemon ginger tea, and a cozy afghan tossed over my lap because the furnace hadn’t quite come up to daytime temperatures, I began my quiet moments with God. During these weeks of Lent, I’m reading from Henri Nouwen’s Show Me the Way and because I’m never disappointed with this man’s reflections, I looked forward to how he would direct my thinking on this winter morning. Atop the first page were these words from Matthew 6:
In your prayers do not babble as the (pagans) do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
I breathed one of those superiority sighs of relief: I’m not a pagan and I don’t babble. (The King James Version defines babbling as “vain repetitions.”) At least I don’t babble in prayer as the dictionary defines it: talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way; to prattle, rattle on, chatter, jabber, twitter, run on, prate, ramble, blather.
Before reading Nouwen’s next few paragraphs, I just sat there with Jesus’ words, reflecting on how my conversations with God usually go. It’s true that God accepts and delights in even the most child-like praying but it’s equally true that often I “rattle on, ramble or chatter.” Less important than the words I’m using is the fact that I don’t think while praying; my prayer vocabulary rests in the familiar, repeated, within-the-comfort-zone category.
Brennan Manning walked to center stage at Moby Arena in Ft. Collins, Colorado one summer. As the scheduled speaker for the morning session at our Staff Conference, it would not have been unusual for him to open in prayer. But before reaching the microphone, Manning turned his back on the audience, raised his arms toward heaven, and quietly intoned, “We’re here, Daddy.” This was a new way of praying, definitely out of the Dear-Heavenly-Father-in-Jesus’-name-Amen framework. Certainly not babbling.
Now it was time to read more from Nouwen: For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God… Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart… The listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out. (Emphases my own.)
It didn’t take me long to recognize that it’s easier to babble than to listen. Nouwen says we need to set aside ten minutes a day to actively, quietly listen to God. So I closed the book and read just a few sentences past Jesus’ words about babbling. Pray, therefore, like this: ‘Our Father…’
And that’s when I started listening. To the Father. No talking, no running on, no rambling, no requesting, no application-seeking (my own weakness), not even any active praising. Just quiet listening.
I didn’t hear his voice. I gained no “spiritual insight.” I wasn’t struck dumb. He and I just sat together, enjoying each other’s presence and friendship. “I’m here, Daddy.”