My family has recently embarked on the journey of incorporating a new spiritual exercise into our communal life – and let me spoil it for you, it has not been an easy task. Every evening during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, after dinner has been enjoyed by all, and my two young children have helped clear the table and put the dishes in the sink, my wife and I have tried as hard as we can to settle the kids down before bedtime and pray a slow, intentional, Scriptural rosary as a family.
I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader, the first few times we tried this spiritual exercise in familial piety, it was a struggle to get our two blessedly bustling children to calm their minds and bodies and stay engaged through the entirety of the Rosary. As you might imagine, with two teetering toddlers rollicking around the living room, even with the lights dimmed and candles lit, it can be quite difficult to focus on the mysteries of Christ’s life that the Church gives us to meditate upon throughout the prayerful recitation of the Rosary. There have been more than a few nights where we’ve really struggled to get through our chosen prayers without one of our children causing the other to cry very real tears! I can recall, on one occasion, when pleading with my daughter to please be quiet, she gently took my head in her hands and loudly whispered into my ear, “I just can’t!”. It’s tough for a toddler to be quiet and listen for any length of time, but you know, it can be just as hard for an adult.
In my own prayer life there have been more times than I can count where I’ve struggled to patiently listen to Jesus in prayer – struggling to calm myself, my thoughts distracted by a million other things vying for my attention. It can almost seem easier to rattle off a few prayers and go my way, rather than settle myself down to attentively listen to what God wants to share with me that day. Quietly listening can be a challenge, even more so when we’re waiting for Christ to disclose something of great importance to us. Even though it’s difficult, silent listening is an integral part of our prayer lives, and it’s something I want to do better, now that we’re well into the ordinary flow of Ordinary Time – a new year’s resolution, of sorts.
My concept of attentive listening is pretty basic, but I hope it will provide some food for your own prayer life. The practice for attentive listening in prayer is simply being aware of Jesus as I’m sharing myself with him. I’m not necessarily trying so much to hear what God is saying, but simply becoming more aware of God’s loving attention toward me, like a child who recognizes that someone has turned their attention toward them. This feels a lot like a moment of tension, being stretched, like a baby bird opening its mouth and waiting for food. I know, though, that the language of God is silence, and only by allowing all of the noise to settle inside of us are we able to receive what he wants to communicate to us in prayer. Like the statues in a snow globe waiting for the flakes to settle, I need to let the trials and commotion surrounding me settle into the background. I know that my personal busyness, refusing to be quiet and patient, can often be my way of keeping God at arm’s length, preferring God to be almighty, powerful, and distant, rather than personal. The moments when I’m most like a spiritual toddler, struggling to quiet myself to hear the voice of the one who loves me, are the very moments that Jesus is gently inviting me to greater intimacy with him.
As this year continues, I’m going to try and spend more time listening than talking in prayer, even when things on the outside might seem unbearably loud, or when I want to loudly whisper to God that, “I just can’t!”. Much like Elijah and the still, small voice, I know that the place of silent tension is precisely the place where Jesus will speak the loudest.