I woke up thinking about prayer, and with a fragment of a poem in my mind that I had read years and years ago. I had always thought the poem was written by C. S. Lewis, but a search for it on the internet informed me that it is actually a poem Lewis found in an old notebook, author unknown. The poem talks about how although in prayer we attempt to speak to God, in the end it is what He speaks to us that endures.
Though it often takes us awhile to get there: To the listening part. And that's o.k. Eugene Peterson, whose book Answering God literally taught me how to pray and helped me sort through my confusion on this subject at least 10 years ago, tells us that the language of prayer is the gut-level language of relationship, and we can learn to speak this language through the psalms. If you want to hear people being honest with God in an uncensored, no-holds-barred way, read the psalms. Despite the fact that they are in the Bible, they are the opposite of what people think of as "religion", by which I mean our attempts to earn merit with God, doing good works and feeling righteous about it. In the psalms you see that somehow, through the ugliest of human emotions, through the depression and frustration and jealousy and anger and yes, even hate with which these psalm-prayers often begin, they end up in praise.
How does it happen? This is not really explained. We are just given the example that it does happen, and told to go and do the same. For centuries Christians have read the psalms out loud, both alone and in public services, in order to learn how to pray themselves. It's a good method. Because we find it excruciatingly hard and unnatural to shed our pretenses and to come to God as we actually are, and this is what prayer IS. But Jesus tells us this is the only way we can hope to enter the kingdom of God. Like a little child.
Sometimes I think of prayer like one of those old car radios with the dial knobs. Say you are driving through someplace barren and empty for miles on end, central Nevada maybe, and trying to find a radio station. You oh-so-carefully turn the knob and it's static and it's static and then you catch the sound of a voice or a fragment of a popular song, only to shoot right past it and be unable to catch it again. It is not always easy to tune into the "spirit frequency," to hear the intimate words that God has to say to you in particular. But the signal is out there, it is broadcasting, always. It is our selves that are out of tune. Now, for the poem I woke up remembering:
They tell me, Lord, that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since but one voice is heard, it’s all a dream,
One talker aping two.
Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say
But lo!, my springs are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The listener’s role and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talkers, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.