Often when we pray, or rather, when we try to pray, our heart is not united with our words. What we say lacks authenticity. We often recite words from others, repeating what they have said, thinking that is good enough because it was good enough for them. But when such words do not reflect our thoughts and feelings, we risk putting on a show. We are not really talking with God. We are like babbling babies, repeating what sounds we have heard, hoping that by doing so, we might get God’s attention and get what we want from him.
This is not to say we should not use the prayers others have left for us to use. Reciting them can be good if we are open to what is being said in them. We must try to change ourselves so that our hearts and minds reflect the meaning of the words themselves. If we are open to this, then such prayers are useful, because they help mold us and shape us, preparing us so that we can eventually have our own conversation with God.
God wants us to speak with him. God wants us to communicate with him. He has revealed himself to us. He speaks to us in the incarnate Word. He awaits our reply. However, we need to learn the language of the spirit. Imitating those who have come before helps. Their words show us the way. But we must not presume we have fully entered the conversation when we repeat what they have said. All we are doing is learning how to converse.
What do we need to do to be truly able to talk with God? How do we go from the stage of babbling to conversing with him? Abba Pambo tells us the answer:
Abba Theodore of Pherme asked Abba Pambo, ‘Give me a word.’ With much difficulty he said to him, ‘Theodore, go and have pity on all, for through pity, one finds freedom of speech before God.’
To speak with God, to converse with God, we need to learn how to be like God. As God is love, we must become reflections of that love. We must transform ourselves not only to act out of love, but to think and reflect upon all things within the framework of love. Love desires all shall participate in and receive what is good and true. Insofar as anyone lacks such good, those with hearts filled with love will take pity on them and seek to elevate them and lift them up until they obtain it. This is what God does for his creation through the incarnation. This is why we must look into the world with a sense of pity, a pity which comes out of love. When we see all things in such love, we can begin to learn the language of love, the language needed to converse with the God who is love.
Love is what will make us free so that we can truly speak with God. When we know all in the light of love, we will be thinking and interpreting all things in the hermeneutic of love. We will understand all things, including the words we speak, differently than before. We will speak with the power of love. The words we say will resound with the meaning of love. Our meaning will no longer be bound by the dictates of the external forms of the words we use, rather, the words will be bound by meaning suggested by the spirit of love. This is why the letter kills but the spirit gives life, for it is only in the spirit of love shall the letter truly have the power to make us thrive. And then, speaking and knowing and understanding all things within the confines of love, we will at last be able to communicate with God. We will be able to do so with words others have used, with words of our own, or even none at all. For it is not the words but the meaning behind the words which is the point of communication. When we truly know how to speak with God, we will be able to speak with the silence which fills up the void.
Paul understood this, which is why he said: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1Cor. 13:1 RSV). The point of our speech must be to reflect the innermost recesses of our heart and the love which is in there. All of us have that love, though some of us have covered it up and hidden it more than others. The pollution of sin must be cleansed from within, and then, we can turn either words or silence into speech, allowing us to truly join in with the conversation which God initiated in the beginning with the Word.
To pray, then, is important. There are many stages of prayer. But only in the highest stage of prayer does the purpose of prayer come to fruition. Only when we can enter the conversation with God do we find ourselves free to join in with God, to join in the Word with a word of our own.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 198 [Pambo 14]
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