Honestly one of the hardest parts of prayer for me is to just shut up and listen. I mean, yes, God wants to listen to us. God wants to calm us, and God wants to let us know that He cares, that His heart breaks for us, that we are never ignored. But sometimes, he wants us to listen, to just be still, and listen.
I actually get to read the works of some of the great mystics of our tradition for classes, and all I can say is that I’m barely a spiritual baby compared to these men and women. But one of the most important things I’m learning is about contemplative prayer. We might think of the great contemplatives as those who are all by themselves, not having spoken a word for months or years at a time, and who have an immediate relationship to God. And traditionally, contemplative prayer is apart from vocal prayer.
Well, my experience of contemplation is a little different.
Granted, I get distracted by anything that moves, so I find myself more connected to what can be called, in a way, active contemplation. Being still and being quiet does not necessarily mean we are not doing anything or saying anything. Here at St. John’s we have so many awesome chances for Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. We have beautiful grounds on which to walk and say the Rosary. We even have spiritual directors and confessors on site to guide us and hear our confessions almost anytime we feel in need.
But I’ve got to say, one of my most contemplative moments was when I got the chance to sit down and chat with one of the guys who will be ordained in just over a year, and to just listen and to just speak my mind. It may seem kind of ironic, but I look back on it and I feel like it was what I would call a contemplative conversation.
Again, I’ll be brutally honest, and I have to admit to my own judgmental attitude, but I thought he kind of looked down on the seminary experience, wanting to get through it and on to priesthood as quickly as possible (again, not so bad for the people of God who need more priests and need them now!). I held an opinion of him that was not one of great respect, but once I started listening, I could finally contemplate who he actually is. He’s just as on fire as I am (and probably more!) for how all of you teens are not only the future of the Church, but its present too! He’s seen the struggles you all go through and the talents and love you share and he knows that the rest of Church has to be aware of this and to see you all as a real, living part of the Church. Once I actually let him speak for who he is and what he cares about, I could let go of my judgments and my confusions. If that is not contemplation, I don’t know what is.
So let us try to be more contemplative, not always by going into solitude, but sometimes by listening to others, letting them speak. After all, that’s what God wants us to do whenever we meet Him in prayer. It’s not one-sided, we’re not bringing him a market list of demands. Perhaps the more we learn to listen, to God and to others, the more we’ll have to say.