Don't Babble When You Pray

Mass Readings for today are here

Gospel: Matthew 6 : 7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,

who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This is how you are to pray:
‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.


If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.

But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”


There is a story that when Henri Nouwen taught workshops to seminarians on prayer, he would begin by gathering the class together, say a few words, then request that they sit in silence—for four hours! 

Nouwen observed that the seminarians would squirm and fidget during the first two hours before finally sitting still. 

Apparently Nouwen concluded and his students learned that, in our cultural cacophony of distractions, it takes two whole hours to block out the noise, and that only then can we begin to listen to the Spirit of God.

I don't know how true this is but the chances of me staying still for 4 hours are low and even lower that I would be awake  - and I take heart that even the apostles didn't manage to stay awake for one hour when in the garden of Gethsemane with Christ himself only a heartbeat away.

I love this quote from the medieval theologian Meister Eckhart on prayer:

If the only prayer you say in your whole life was 'Thank you,' that would be enough." 

 Back to Henri Nouwen :

"To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. 
Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings. 

... Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts -- beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful -- can be thought in the presence of God.

... Thus, converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centred monologue to a God-centred dialogue.

from Henri Nouwen- Clowning in Rome

"Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very center of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched."

The resistance to praying is like the resistance of tightly clenched fists,  a tension, a desire to cling tightly to yourself, a greediness which betrays fear."

More often than I’d like to admit, this is an accurate description of my prayers which are often a struggle, routine, tedious, and sometimes feel like a pretence that take place in a defensive stance of a tight clenched fist.

But how I long to open my hands and lift them up and in turn to be lifted up in a conversation with God.

Image above from 

Henri Nouwen identified three moves critical to the spiritual life. 

When it comes to our interior life (the self), the most vital move is from loneliness to solitude. 
When it comes to our relationship with God, the fundamental shift is from illusion to prayer. 
And regarding our relationships with others, the primary move is from hostility to hospitality. 

Of all the many possible changes we might contemplate in our spiritual life, Nouwen believed these three were the most important and that true growth could not take place without these three.

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