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.
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.