On a path beside the lake, a mother stood with her young child. They chattered away happily; ‘duck’, ‘tree’, ‘dog’. The vocabulary was limited, but it was true conversation. Mother and child were deeply engrossed; both were listening as well as speaking; each reacting to the other.
It’s a picture I’m sure we all recognise. From their earliest days, we talk with our children. As they start to talk back, we help them shape their words. Slowly but surely, new words are added into their vocabulary and with new words come new ideas.
As a child grows there will be much to learn. Conversations come in shapes and sizes to suit all occasions; from the structured formality of a business meeting to the informality of a coffee with a friend. Good conversation is a skill, but the basic art simply comes with practice. We learn to talk by listening, and by being listened to. It all starts with those one-word conversations between parent and child.
Jesus’ disciples once asked ‘Lord teach us to pray’. It’s a sentiment many of us will have echoed at some time in our lives. Shaped by years of communal worship, both the formal liturgy of a prayer book and the apparently unscripted ‘extemporary prayer’ of other traditions, we have learned that prayer is a skill. We fret that our skills are lacking.
When his disciples asked ‘teach us to pray’ Jesus began ‘Pray then in this way “Father in heaven”’ (Luke 11:1). Prayer, for Jesus, is a family conversation. Like any other family conversation, it can take many forms. A greeting; ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ Relaxing together to establish a bond as we prepare to share. Sometimes we think long and hard about what to say, more often words just flow as each new sentence builds on what we have just heard. Sometimes we can chat happily in a busy place, other times we need to find peace and quiet.
Like any other conversation; prayer is something we learn through experience. Like any other type of conversation, it all begins with a simple chat, like a mother with her young child, and grows from there. Prayer can lead us closer to the great mystery which is God’s love for us, but prayer itself is no mystery, just honest conversation.
Rev Philip Payne
The Notice Sheet for 11 July can be found here