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  • Seasons of the Spirit: Prayer as Listening

    “A man prayed. At first he thought prayer was talking. But as he became more and more quiet, he realized that most of prayer is listening.”

    This quote from the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard has influenced my understanding of prayer more than all of the myriad discourses on prayer I have read, studied, pondered, and practiced.

    This Lent, might prayer be one of the ways you deepen your spiritual practice for these 40 days? We will be gathering on Tuesday evenings, with some time for practicing contemplative prayer/meditation as part of our time together. And perhaps taking some time each day for a moment of prayer would be helpful.

    Most of us, when we finally stop to be in silence, find ourselves staring into the face of our various internal narratives clamoring for attention. Most of us try to ignore these by pushing them away, or harshly relegating them to the dank cellar or dusty attic of our minds. But in order to come to a place of quiet before God, the desires, resentments, memories, and narratives that keep on insinuating themselves into prayer are the very things we need to pray about—to listen to God’s wisdom in being with these aspects our lives.

    For example, most of us, when we try to be quiet to pray, start obsessing about our “to do” list. That itself may be an opportunity to pray about the big lie we were told as a child—that we were only valuable when we were meeting other people’s needs, or when we were perfectly achieving some impossible task. This encounter is telling us about our bondage. We need to place this story before God, who yearns to help us imagine what life would be like if we were freed from this burden. God longs to free us to take “time out” with a clear conscious, to simply rest in God and allow God to be our richness, offering us clarification about Christ’s “abundant life.”

    Perhaps we can begin in prayer to note and write down all the things that seem to “get in the way of my prayer” and then ask the Holy Spirit to show us how these items are actually a “way into prayer.” We are thus inviting God to transform our old, worn out narratives, opening the way to grace, to love, to being valued for our very being. Here we may begin to recognize God’s love of us comes by grace alone, freeing us to love all others with this very love we are first given by God.

    As we listen to God in prayer, we hear God inviting us into a new world, one in which death itself is not feared, and hope is born anew out of the very things our old narratives would have us avoid or fear. In all of this, our prayer is rooted in thanks to God, who is the source of our true joy, in whom we find our refuge and strength, our very present help in all of our and the world’s trouble. Thanks be to God!

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church of Winchester, (UCC) and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC)