Conversing with God
Begin an ongoing dialogue with the best listener of all
Much of this article has been excerpted from Deacon Eddie Ensley’s book, “Step By Step Spirituality for Deacons” (Abbey Press, 2014).
Few things soothe and bring peace to our hearts more than a heartfelt talk with a close friend. We feel understood, accepted and listened to. Our isolation has been broken, and we can connect to the world on a deeper level. So it is with God. He already knows our needs, but he wants us to have the comforting experience of his listening to us.
Andrew, a middle-aged deacon I met while leading a retreat in the Midwest, approached me and asked to talk privately. His face showed the strain of someone who had just experienced a loss. I wondered if he was grieving the passing of a close relative. He poured his heart out to me. The pastor, Father Bill, who had led his parish for 10 years, had been transferred to the other side of the diocese.
“Father Bill had been especially close to me, my wife and family,” Andrew said. “He was more than our pastor; he was our confidant. He had supper with us once a week and often came over after the last Mass on Sunday to watch football with me.”
|‘A Channel of Communication|
“It is beautiful to think that our God does not
need sacrifices in order to win his favor! Our
God needs nothing.
In prayer, he only asks that we keep a channel
of communication open with him in order
to always recognize that we are his most
beloved children. He loves us very much.”
— Pope Francis, in his Jan. 2, 2019, general
Father Bill had entrusted Andrew with many ministries. He had Andrew preaching twice a month, leading the parish’s outreach to the poor and had appointed him co-leader of the parish’s RCIA process. Though this kept Andrew busy, he relished his work as a deacon.
The newly assigned priest, who wanted to be more involved with the parish, had cut Andrew’s involvement. He changed Andrew’s schedule so that he preached only once a month. The new pastor wanted to lead RCIA himself and hired a full-time director for the church’s outreach to the poor. Moreover, the new pastor, more reserved than the previous pastor, did not make Deacon Andrew a confidant.
This left Andrew with an identity crisis. He had overly identified his core being with the things he did for the parish. Moreover, Andrew felt lost not having a pastor as a confidant. His stress over all of this was palpable. After pouring out his heart to me, he let out an audible sigh of relief.
“It is so good to get all of this off of my chest,” Andrew said. “Except for my wife, I haven’t had anyone to confide in about all these things.”
I asked him about his prayer life, and he was honest with me. He had been so busy with ministry that he had stopped saying the Liturgy of the Hours, and now did little more for his devotions than say a decade of the Rosary each day.
I explained to him that God is the world’s greatest confidant, and then I went over with him some of the basics of conversational prayer. I also explained that, ultimately, prayer is not something we do, but something we become. God wants our whole lives to be a prayer. I also mentioned that being a deacon is more than what we do, it’s what we are. I pointed out to him that being a father does not consist of what we do, but what we are, so it is with being a deacon.
Taking on a heavy load of ministries does not make you a deacon. You are a deacon because of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The ordained deacon is a sacramental sign of the service of Christ, more than what you do. Ordination imprints a character, it doesn’t just give you a function. As the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons states, “Progress in the spiritual life is achieved primarily by faithful and tireless exercise of the ministry in integrity of life” (No. 51).
Living the Call Authentically
As deacons, we are called to live our calling authentically, every hour of every day. There is no time off from being a deacon, and being a deacon does not cease when we cease doing work of ministry. We are deacons during our time at secular employment, during times with our spouse and family, and during times of recreation.
To live that character of deacon, it is important to have sacred time alone with God, to be in his presence. This is the time to talk with him as a friend. All believers, not just deacons and priests, need to take time each day to talk to God.
No matter how advanced our prayer lives might be, we still need to engage God in conversation. Conversational prayer is an intimate communication between friends. Jesus listens to us. We listen to him. We know that few things comfort us more than someone who lovingly listens. Jesus — the greatest listener, the greatest friend — experienced our fears, stresses and worries. He understands us more than anyone.
Any prayer in which you converse personally with God can be called conversational prayer. Rosalind Rinker, a former Protestant missionary to China, has written many books on conversational prayer, and has led hundreds of workshops on the subject.
Like St. Alphonsus, Rinker defines conversational prayer as a form of “spontaneous, childlike prayer, put out from hearts directly to the heart of Jesus.” As much as possible, she urges people to pray out loud as they converse with God. I have found speaking the words just under my breath physically reinforces the prayer and works just as well. Some people write out their conversational prayers.
Conversational prayer is not a new form of prayer. Its roots are ancient. The saints prayed that way. St. Alphonsus Liguori, who could be called the patron saint of conversational prayer, lived in Italy during the 18th century. In his book “Prayer as Conversing with God as a Friend,” published in 1752, he wrote: “God’s heart has no greater concern than to love us and to make itself loved by us.” This is the core principle of conversational prayer. “Always act toward God like faithful friends who consult with each other on everything,” St. Alphonsus said. “Accustom yourself to speak to God, one to one, in a familiar manner as to the dearest friend you have and who loves you best of all.”
Not only do we speak with God in conversational prayer, God speaks to us. St. Alphonsus said, “God will not make himself heard by you in a voice that reaches your ears, but rather in a voice that only your heart knows well.”
DEACON EDDIE ENSLEY serves in the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, and teaches at the Josephinum Diaconate Institute.
Four Steps of Conversational Prayer
The following steps of prayer are drawn from Rosalind Rinker’s four steps in conversational prayer:
1. Jesus, you are here. Recognize the risen Lord’s nearness. Welcome him out loud or silently in your own words. I often pray: “You are so near me, Lord, closer to me than my breath. Please open your listening heart to my prayers.”
2. Thank you, Lord. Think over all the ways Jesus has loved and cared for you. Name some of those times and thank him for them. Offer praise, worship and adoration.
3. Help me, Lord. We take our needs to Jesus one by one. Tell him about your cares, admit your sins and ask him for guidance.
4. I pray for my brothers and sisters. We move beyond ourselves to pray for others, thinking of their needs and cares. Pray for this hurting world of ours.