Posted on: September 6th, 2011 Prayer: a life-long conversation with God

What follows is the statement of purpose for my Christian Formation class at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas which will be offered in the Fall of 2011.

A conversation requires two parties, whose roles alternate between speaker and listener.

The firm conviction out of which this Christian Formation class on prayer is based is that prayer, according to Scripture and Tradition, is intended to be a conversation or a dialogue between us and God.

All too often well-meaning Christians today assume that prayer is, by definition, solely a matter of the Christian talking to God instead of talking with God, instead of engaging in a conversation with God. And yet, the Scriptures are clear: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) implies a listening posture of silence. That God is “a still, small voice” (cf 1 Kings 19:12) suggests that God speaks to his people, but that in order to hear him we must be quiet, refusing to let our own “noise” (literal and otherwise) drown out his voice.

In this class we will be asking the question “What is prayer?” and we will see that there are a great many answers to that question. For example, Sister Benedicta Ward, SLG (Anglican Order of the Sisters of the Love of God) writes that, for the desert fathers, “prayer was not an activity undertaken for a few hours each day; it was a life continually turned toward God.”

Indeed, prayer is so many things. And yet, the core conviction here is that as modern Christians we have lost the art, the practice, the holy discipline and comfort of listening for God. We are too busy, too anxious, too impatient, too distracted. And in the process of all this frenetic activity, we lose the joy of intimacy with the living God who speaks.

What should we do? It was the theoretical vision of John Calvin, and the practical vision of Thomas Cranmer, that all Christians were called to live the life of prayer which, in times past, was restriced to the monastery. That is part of the answer.

For the more of the answer we will listen to the wisdom of contemporary Christian leaders who have been particularly profound in their approach to prayer-as-listening. Among the writers and writings which have influenced me in this regard, and to whom we will be attentive in this class are:

  • Peter Kreeft, Prayer: The Great Conversation and Prayer for Beginners
  • James Finley, Christian Meditation
  • Henri Nouwen, various
  • Thomas Keeting, various

Join us this fall, as we consider how to listen for the voice of God in our daily lives.

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7 Responses to “Prayer: a life-long conversation with God”

  1. Jon Rowan Says:
    September 6th, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Sounds intriguing, mb…is class # 1 on Sunday? 9-11? Which keeting writings do you most pull from? i.e.- do you have one you might suggest?

  2. Libby Says:
    September 7th, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I wish I could take this class!

    Matt, as you know, over the summer I was meditating pretty regularly (being quiet for 10 minutes, watching incense burn and neither clinging to nor rejecting my thoughts), and I met with the episcopal campus chaplain a couple times to meditate together. After our third time meditating, we were talking about how he actually hears God’s voice during meditation – not every time, but the times that he does make up for all the times he doesn’t. He then said, “I think there are some people who may never hear God’s voice in prayer.” I felt like I was one of those people
    and immediately stopped my regular practice. 🙁 Your class makes me want to try again.

  3. Libby Says:
    September 7th, 2011 at 10:48 am

    “may never hear God’s voice in meditation,” I meant to say.

  4. matt Says:
    September 7th, 2011 at 7:54 pm


    Yes, class #1 this Sunday.

    Let me get to my office & I’ll get you a list of the Keating books!



  5. matt Says:
    September 7th, 2011 at 8:21 pm


    Strike two against that priest. He should not have said that.

    Rather, the truth is that all human beings are designed for intimacy / communion with God, which is what the “voice” and “hearing” metaphor is about, I think.

    I mean, after all, is God a person, or not? And … what would a marriage or a friendship be without real communication, necessarily two-way?

  6. Libby Says:
    September 18th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Matt, you should post a list of the Keating books you’re going to read. I never reading anything beyond The Human Condition and would like recommendations – e.g. which describes how to do centering prayer?

  7. matt Says:
    September 18th, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Libby & Jon,

    Really, the only Keating book I plan to use is _Open Heart, Open Mind: the Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel_.


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