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Friday, August 9, 2013

Speaking with God

by Barbara A. Schoeneberger

The Infant Samuel by Reynolds (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

The spiritual idiolect, that is, our own unique ways of speaking with God, was a new concept for me when I found it at this blog. It often takes me awhile to make something new my own before I can express myself adequately, and so it has been with this spiritual idiolect concept.

I never really thought before about how I communicate with God. I just did it. But now, reviewing a life nearing the seventh decade mark, I can see a progression of expression gathered from exposure to many kinds of Christian prayer.

When we were children, my brothers and sisters and I all learned the formal prayers of the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, the Apostles Creed and the numerous beautiful ejaculations such as "My Jesus, Mercy," "O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine" and the like. Every night we prayed on our knees by our bedside, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." There was also the beautiful "Angel of God my Guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule, and guide." Great theology is contained in these prayers that became more meaningful as I deepened my relationship with God. Still today I pray them all, each one becoming a little love song or chant that only God hears.

Speaking to God from the heart

There was another way we were taught by the good sisters when we were young, and that was to talk to Jesus as a friend and a helper, especially at Holy Communion. To approach Jesus in our own words and to thank Him for coming to us and for all He has given us, to tell him our problems and to ask His help made us experience Jesus as a real Person. I still keep that simplicity of approach today when every time I enter the pew for Mass, every time I make a holy hour, the first thing I say to the Lord is, "Thank you for being here, Lord, and thank you for letting me be here. Please bless the priest and all the people at Mass today." If it's a holy hour I just stop with the first sentence and use the old A Meditation Before the Blessed Sacrament as a guide.

This informality is comfortable and puts me in the mind of a child, an attitude of trust and confidence in God's love. Many times I use it about every day things, thanking God for His help with the garden for instance, telling Him what I'd like to have happen with it, etc. When we are in ferocious storm conditions I may say something like, "Lord, protect our house and property. Well, actually, it's Your house and Your property on loan to us. Please send your angels to guard us. But if it's Your will that we be sucked up in a tornado, that's OK, too." Then I pick up my rosary and start praying, or if it's getting late at night, I just say, "Lord, I'm too tired to stay up, so I'm not going to worry about the storm. Please take care of us." Then I sleep peacefully and thank God for watching over us the next day when I wake up.

Praying with Scripture and with the Church

I use this approach when praying for others and the poor souls, or when thankfulness bursts into praise. Sometimes, though, Bible verses run through my head and I use them for a continuous prayer of praise and glory. "To the King of ages, who is immortal, invisible, the one only God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen" from 1 Tim. 1:17 is a favorite that I chant silently when I feel called to do so. Since the Holy Spirit gave us the Bible I figure the Lord is really pleased to have us use His words to praise Him, thank Him, petition Him, etc. It's like a great composer hearing his own composition played in his honor.

Being a Benedictine oblate, the sacred liturgy forms a major part of my way of speaking to God because, in addition to hospitality, the Benedictines are all about the official prayer of the Church, the work of the people. Every time I attend Mass or pray the Divine Office I see myself as a tiny dot in a sea of people before the throne of God. Because the sacred liturgy belongs to the Mystical Body, it's not mine to tamper with or to shrug off lightly. Keeping these thoughts in mind helps me do my best when talking to God in the words and gestures of the Church.

Then there is Lectio Divina and meditation, both of which start out in a structured pattern but end up in an informal dialogue. Reflections from the great Carmelite saints always help make my meditation fruitful as do those from the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

In those times when I don't feel like praying or even have an aversion to it, I rely on an informal prayer that goes something like this, "Lord, I don't feel like praying today. The thought of it repulses me. What a chore. I don't even know what I do want to do instead of praying. But I'm going to pray anyway with Your grace. Let every act of doing my duty today be praise to You for giving me life, for sending me hardships, worries, and trials as well as all the good things You've blessed me with. I owe You, Lord. Please keep reminding me so that I grow in love of You. Help me to do Your will always."

Nothing fancy here. Just plain and simple, structured and unstructured, Benedictine, Carmelite, and Patristic, individual and community, words and no words. The roots of my spiritual idiolect were set down in early childhood and have fruited in old age from some very knobby branches. The plant looks a little puny in some places, but the Master Gardner continues to snip here and there with His great pruning shears. What else can be said but, "Thanks be to God"?

Barbara blogs at  Suffering With Joy.


  1. Barbara, I, too, have struggled to understand the spiritual ideolect concept---at least how it pertains to me. Your exposition here has been very helpful. I also visited your blog and enjoyed reading the post about Cardinal George's response to the Immigrant and Refuge group. He has a wonderful way with words, especially, "Jesus is merciful, but He is not stupid; He knows the difference between right and wrong." God bless you, Barbara!

    1. Thank you, Ruth Ann. Yes, that quote from Cardinal George is something everyone should hear, especially those who are trying to make Jesus into somebody He isn't. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. Beautiful post!

    For me it is interesting to reflect on what prayer is, where it resides. It is not entirely a mental exercise. If we think about what we are in this world -- we are physical beings (our body), energetic beings (our personality or energy), and mental beings (our minds or intellect). I defer to those who know more, but it seems to me that each of these elements has a correspondence with the Trinity (Christ -- body, Holy Ghost -- speech or energy, and God, the father -- mind). And so, in that way, we are small embodiments of the great mystery. And the speech aspect of prayer is what joins the physical world to the world of heaven.

    So, for me, prayer is most complete when all three parts are engaged. The body genuflects or the head is bowed and the hands are folded or tolling a rosary. Our voice is engaged, even if speaking softly. And our mind is active, searching or resting -- calmly but aware -- in love.

    1. Very well put, Anonymous. I'd never thought about this way of corresponding to the Trinity. Thanks for the comment.


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