Prayer is a response to God’s personal presence
What is prayer? That may sound like a dumb question at first, I mean prayer is simply talking to God right? And of course that’s true, but like with so many other parts of our faith, if we never pause to really think and learn about them, we tend to make poor assumptions and ingrain bad habits.
So let’s set one thing straight right away. There is no single “right” way to pray. God’s relationship to us is complicated. God has many different roles in our lives, and so our conversation with him must take many different forms.
For example, in our private relationship with God, he is our dear and intimate friend, and it would be weird to talk to God in a formulaic and careful way. No one would talk to their closest friend following a pattern, instead we just chat, or pour out our feelings and thoughts.
But we also have a public and communal relationship with God who is our king. And in the courts of a king, ceremonial and formulaic speech is the correct and respectful way to speak.
Or again, God is also our Father, and when like in Psalm 131 God invites us to rest on him as a child rests on her Mother, we don’t even need to use words to “converse” with him. We just sit quietly and enjoy his love and protection of us.
The point is this. There are many ways to pray because our relationship with God has many different forms.
But there is one thing we can say about all the different kinds of prayer—all our different ways of talking to God. They all involve God attending to me.
In other words, prayer is never me talking into a void, or babbling a bunch of holy sounding words hoping God will notice and approve. No, the fundamental truth of Christian prayer is that God loves me, that he is directly and personally attending to me, that he has made himself present to me.
I don’t need to get God’s attention because I already have it. I don’t need to ask God to be present because he already is. Instead, prayer is when I notice and attend to God. It’s when I respond to God’s personal, interested, and loving presence that has always been with me.
Prayer is first and foremost, a response. It’s not something I do to or for God. It’s my response to all that God has already, and is already doing to and for me.
Prayer, in all its various forms, is me saying back to God, “I love you, too.”
In conclusion, pray with me the following prayer written by Thomas Keating:
Here I am, Dear Lord, desperately in need of your Holy Spirit. Give me your Holy Spirit, according to your promise. I don't know how to ask rightly, so I just sit here and allow you to pray in me, asking for what you most want to bestow, which is your own Holy Spirit — with the gifts through which the Holy Spirit takes over more and more of my life.