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column: what works

Practical tools for your personal spiritual life from Phil Fox Rose.

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June 21st, 2010

What Works: Talking with God

Deepening your personal relationship with God through conversational prayer

 
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Monica Rozenfeld just posted in her blog here in Busted Halo about finding a new way to pray conversationally with God, thanks to the an idea from the book Eat, Pray, Love. It reminded me of an experience I had years ago. I had always been fine with the “God is everything” and “There is that of God in each of us” kinds of conceptions of God, but I was finding it hard to turn my will and my life over to a concept or The Universe; and I was being told that it would really help if I could learn to relate to God in a more personal way. I’d always struggled with the idea of a God personal to me. I’d always rejected anthropomorphizations as childish.

Then a wise spiritual friend I admired, Shana, made a suggestion. She came from a rural area where people drive everywhere, and she told me how, when she was learning this herself, she’d buckle the passenger seat of the car and talk to God as if he was sitting there. Though I lived in the city without a car, I’d spent plenty of years in car culture and this visual helped me with imagining how to approach praying in a conversational way.

And praying conversationally changed my conception of God. They fed each other. As I prayed “as if” God was a person in the room with me, I found it easier to feel comforted by God’s presence. As I felt comforted by God’s presence, it became easier to relate to God any time, anywhere — to just stop in the midst of a situation and have a few words with God.

Of course, Christians have always had the person of Jesus to pray to, but I wasn’t raised with any teaching in this area, so that idea was foreign to me. It may be easier to imagine for some. But even if you can easily relate to the idea of praying to God as a person, praying conversationally, and out loud, can still seem strange or silly.

Speaking freely

One of the great things about the car is that you can talk out loud without it looking weird — especially with all the hands-free cellphones nowadays. They weren’t common when my friend was doing it. Still, in your car, you feel like you’re in a bubble. Haven’t you ever sung along with the radio unselfconsciously in the car? Talk to God with the same freedom.

(Now that I think about it, a friend was just complaining the other day about people who sing along in public to music on their iPods. I could put on the headphone/mic set for my iPhone without turning it on and walk down the street talking to God and none would know the wiser. Hmmm.)

If you’re praying at home and live with other people, this can be trickier. Find a time and place where you can feel free to talk out loud away. Even if you live alone, it can feel weird to be speaking in an “empty” room. Close your eyes if it helps. Don’t do that if you actually are driving though. :-)

But just push through the awkwardness and before you know it, it could be fifteen minutes later and you realize you’ve been talking nonstop. Or that you talked yourself out and fell naturally into a meditative phase of just sitting with God. Both happen to me regularly.

Bringing God into your day

This also reminds me of the tool, HALT, which was on my mind because a reader just posted a comment on my old column about it. I wrote about HALT almost a year ago and it remains one of my most popular columns. The idea behind HALT is that when you feel yourself being aggravated, short-tempered or overwhelmed, before you act on those feelings, stop, take a breath and do a quick little inventory of the acronym’s touchstones: are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Those conditions can make it hard to feel God’s grace and love in a situation. It’s a powerful tool especially because it can diffuse situations while they’re happening, before they escalate. As the reader, Tom, said:

“HALT is one tool that brings us closer to realizing the potential for grace, mercy and forgiveness.”

Much of what I write about in What Works involves bringing the spiritual wisdom you already have out of the brief devotional moments in your day into the everyday. Some things, like meditation, help by retraining your mind, your habits. Others, like HALT and the Welcoming Prayer, help right there in the field, when they’re needed. But the bottom line is this: God is available wherever you are, whenever you need support, direction or just comforting. It doesn’t have to be in church, or your scheduled daily meditation or prayer session. I have friends who will go into a restaurant bathroom, close the stall and pray there. I’m a bit too much of a germophobe for that. But I will stop at a quiet corner or park bench and bow my head.

For me, learning to talk conversationally in prayer has been one of the most life-changing tools for making God more present in my day-to-day life. Of course I write here a lot about meditation, sitting with God in silence, but I also pray every day, and in my daily prayers for years now there has been a free-form section when I speak conversationally about the day before and the day to come, and any nagging issues or upcoming concerns for which I want guidance, comfort or support. And it’s not all asking for help! I talk about things I’m happy or excited about too.

Do you chat with God in your prayers? If not, give it a try. The “trick” of the car passenger seat idea helped me. But maybe you can think of a setting that works better for you. Or maybe you already have one. I’d love to hear about anything that people already use to help them with conversational prayer. This can be a difficult leap for people to make and the more examples the better. Share them here in comments below, or send me an email at phil (AT) bustedhalo DOT com.

 
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The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
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  • JMS

    I talk to God all the time in the car. I love the idea of buckling him into the passenger seat. I often do it in front of my kids, too. Just today I made a wrong turn on a country road and was running late. I asked God to just nudge me in the right direction and He did. I laughed aloud with the kids in the backseat and we all gave God a “high five”

  • Annie

    Good idea! I like to write letters to God in my journal. It revolutionized my spiritual life. Before I knew it, I was writing prayers daily for up to an hour, and before I hadn’t really prayed at all! And, like your experience, that spilled out and now I have no problem feeling God’s presence during work, while I’m falling asleep, or anywhere! It is true that the conversation feels one sided at first, but then you start to see things that you talking about being addressed in the mass readings or homily, or in something a friend says, or something happens to you, and you begin to see that God is really answering!

  • Dave

    One of the barriers to conversational prayer is the uncertain format. When using the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father, or reciting the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer, you know what to say and how to say it. Here is an example of why free-style conversational prayer can seem really confusing to some people when they consider the idea of talking to God like talking to a friend who is sitting nearby…

    You: So, it’s good to talk to you. How have you been?

    God: …

    You: I saw Larry the other day, he’s the same old Larry. Still working at the shop on the corner. He asked about you. So, who have you run into lately?

    God: …

    You: Uh, well, uh, what are your plans for this weekend? Have anything exciting coming up?

    God: …

    You: Yeah, well, it was good catching up with you. Uh, see you around.

    God: …

    Now, the example may seem silly, but I believe it isn’t far off from how many people might imagine conversational prayer. It can seem weird. Even if the dialogue were changed to more pious and formal topics, it still has that “talking to an imaginary friend” quality that may keep some people from appreciating or even trying this form of praying out loud.

  • Greg

    Thanks for this post. It truly brings in the reality of relationship which we should have with God…perhaps it is awkward initially because there doesn’t seem to be that requisite amount of “piety,” but sometimes that piety can get in the way of true and honest prayer to God. I needed to hear this. Thanks…

  • Lora

    I read this in the Pray magazine archives at navpress.com: “The first time I ever prayed with someone from the contemplative prayer tribe, I thought she’d fallen asleep. I learned that instead of filling the air with her words, she was waiting to hear the Word and echo Him.” Pretty neat.

  • Monica

    Wow, I got shivers thinking about “buckling in” G-d in the passenger seat. What a cool concept. Driving is really one of the best times to let your thoughts and feelings free. Any time I feel I need a good cry, I will usually get into my car and take a trip to nowhere. Maybe next time, I will bring G-d with me.

    Thanks so much for this post! I will miss my car even more now when I move back to the City.

  • Bobby Fromer-Bonilla

    Thank you so much for really bringing this to the forfront. I didn’t lear how to do this till after I got clean and sober. It was like a lot of other things I discovered in the months and years after. It just all of a suddon made sence. The real leason that got my attion was this; I was on my way to the doctors. I was in my 2nd attempt at sobriity and I was only at about 90days of so. I had to go to get some test results and I don’t remember now but for some reason my partner go not go with me that day and I was really pretty scared. I was driving along and just talking to myself and the next thing I knew I was talking to god. I started to share how nervious I was about going alone being by myself. Sll of a sudden I felt my right hand being squeezed, just as if there was really someone in my passenger seat. The feeling was so comforting and so reassureing I knew at that moment that 1) everything was going to be OK and 2) that I was not alone.

    Everything did turn out OK and I did it I was able to go and do this with out that physical presents of my partner being there. Just me the doctor and God.

    Thank you for allowing me to share and thank you for your site.

    With all Gods Blessings,
    Bobby

  • Jan Nichols

    I LOVE your article and have found praying out loud a great experience! Did you know that St.Theresa of Avila promoted “vocal prayer” to her nuns who found “contempletive” prayer too difficult? She advocated using the Lord’s Prayer or Scripture, but most important was the idea that one should be able to understand what one speaks….and by reciting prayers out loud etc., the Holy Spirit takes over and we begin having a bonifide conversation with God. Wow! Love the thought that all that is necessary is to buckle up and start talking. It works!

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