by Mags Blackie

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, writes of ‘talking to God as one friend talks to another’.

Growing up as a Catholic I was taught to pray formally. I knew the Our Father, the Hail Mary, how to pray the Rosary. I knew a few prayers associated with different saints. And I knew that I could use ‘arrow prayers’ – Dear God, please help me get through this …… and Thank you, God for x, y or z. But I don’t remember using conversation prayer much as an adolescent.

The first time I actively recall talking to God ‘as one friend talks to another’ was on a cold, crisp winter’s morning in the Highveld. I was on an Alpha weekend. Because I had recently had knee surgery I chose not to go walking with everyone else, but took a walk along. As I gently walked through the cotton fields I was talking to Jesus about my future. I wasn’t sure whether to take up an opportunity to do an honours degree, or whether to continue teaching.

I didn’t hear any voices in my head, but I did have a real sense of Jesus being with me. I returned from the walk a little clearer about what I might do.

In the years since that most vivid experience, I have come to use conversational prayer every day. I talk to God about my successes and my failures; the things I am most proud of and the things I find hard to admit even to myself.

When I began using conversational prayer I was much more formal than I am now. I think I was probably still trying to impress God, or trying to make God like me somehow. I spoke about the things I felt I ought to speak about, saying the things I ought to say, a bit like I would speak to a teacher or a priest or some authority figure.

Since then, I have learnt that actually the only thing that God requires of me is honesty. My prayer is much more real when I am able to be truthful.

I have been through times when I have talked to God about my doubts in God’s existence. I have talked to God about my anger and my grief. I learnt to trust that God can cope with anything. All God desires is that I am fully present.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that we need to speak to God about the things that are on our minds, because if we try to do anything else God is not fooled and we are not satisfied. He adds that even our closest friends can tell when we are not fully engaged in a conversation, so why would we think we can pull the wool over God’s eyes?

It is easy of course, to talk about what we should talk about in conversational prayer, but conversation implies a response. How does God respond?

In my experience it happens in different ways. I use a journal a lot when I pray. So I write my thoughts out. Often by the time I come to the end of the prayer period I discover I am in a slightly different space. I attribute this shift to God’s response to me. Sometimes I find myself writing things which just don’t feel quite like me. When I sit with these things and consider whether they might come from God, often it feels as though they are congruent with who I think God to be.

Sometimes the response doesn’t come in the prayer itself. It comes later through a friend, or something I read, or an idea. Because I have consciously had a conversation with God about a particular question or issue, I am able to recognise the sign as having come from God.

Conversation prayer has always been a part of the Christian tradition. I think Jesus was conversing with God in the Garden of Gethsemane although we only know half of Jesus’ dialogue. But he began in anguish and ended with a sense of resolve. The circumstances in which he found himself didn’t change, but he was able to move into a place of acceptance through conversation with the Father.

For me, conversation prayer is foundational to my faith. It helps me to navigate my life. It forces me to pay attention to things that are important to me and to bring them into conversation with God. Sometimes my priorities shift because of the conversation, sometimes I just get clarity on where I am and on what I am trying to do. My own motivations are open to scrutiny.

For me, conversation prayer is fundamental to relationship with God. And an active dynamic relationship with God is crucial to a life of faith. I don’t know what it means to be a person of faith in the absence of conversational prayer.


About the AuthorMags

Mags Blackie

Mags Blackie is the author of ‘Rooted in Love: integrating Ignatian spirituality into daily life’. By day she is an academic in the Department of Chemistry and Poly
mer Science at Stellenbosch University. In her spare time she gives spiritual direction. She blogs at magsblackie.com

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  • Mags thank you so much for this article. It aligns almost exactly with my own personal life. I have used conversational prayer with our Lord more than any other way. At least 2 priests have confirmed to me that this is indeed a fine way to pray. Your reflections here, and this article in general, remind of Christ’s words to St. Faustina: ” Speak to Me about everything in a completely human way; by this you will give Me great joy…My daughter, the simpler your speech is , the more you attract Me to yourself. ” (Diary of St. Faustina 797)