Tuesday, January 14, 2020

“Prayer as Listening” by Colleen O’Sullivan

“Prayer as Listening” by Colleen O’Sullivan

At that time, Samuel was not familiar with the LORD because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.  The LORD called Samuel again for the third time.  Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.  You called me.”  Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.  So, Eli said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” (1 Samuel 3:7-10)

I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry…  Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  (Psalm 40:2, 7ab)

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  (Mark 1:35)


Lord, open my ear to the sound of your voice.

Praying Hands, Albrecht Dűrer, 1508,
Albertina Museum,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
The other day I was on a phone call, which, after a while, began to seem more like the other person’s monologue than a two-way conversation.  Clearly, this person needed to talk, but I may as well not even have been there.  Whenever I tried to say anything, I was interrupted and my words were overridden.   Finally, I just sat back and listened until the speaker finally ran out of steam.

I wonder if that’s how God experiences us sometimes when pray.  We are full of things to say to the Lord, often offering something akin to a laundry list of what we’d like God to do for the persons for whom we’re praying or for us.  God is very interested in our needs and our concern for family and friends, but we may not have a clue about God’s response to our prayer, because we’re not listening.  We’re thinking instead of the next thing we want to say. 

Prayer is just as much about listening and discerning what we hear as it is about talking to God.  Samuel was awakened in the night by someone calling him and thought it must have been Eli, the high priest of Shiloh, who was training him.  Eli, however, had more experience in the ways of the Lord than his young protégé and realized that this was God wanting to talk with Samuel.  So, Eli instructed the boy to tell God that he was listening. 

Sometimes we patiently wait before we hear God talking to us, as the psalmist mentions in today’s psalm.  God always hears us when we call.  And God wants to respond, but you and I aren’t always in listening mode.  A few verses further on, the psalmist says he realizes what God wants most from us is ears attuned to God’s voice and hearts ready to do whatever God asks of us.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus accompanies Peter to his mother-in-law’s house.  She is ill, and Jesus heals her.  Jesus then heals many from the village.  When it grows late, Jesus slips away to a place where he can pray in solitude.  St. Mark does not tell us how Jesus prays, but since everything our Lord does come from his Father, there must be a great deal of listening going on.

Jesus must have received some direction from his Father in heaven because, by the time Simon and his friends found him, he had made up his mind to go on from there to other villages, even though Simon protested that the villagers were looking for him.  Jesus was clear that his purpose in being here on earth was to move on and preach to people who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to hear him.

The next few times, you pray, be attentive to how much time you spend talking, and how long you spend listening.  

Listening for God’s voice isn’t easy.  If you need help with this, find an experienced spiritual director who can help you.

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