Authentic Vocal Prayer

In our busy day-to-day lives, how often our conversation with one another races by. A steady stream of words leap out of our mouths in the hope that a fraction of them will be heard. And when we listen, with all the distractions inside and out, how often we pick up only a fraction of what is said and retain even less! If this typifies our conversation with one another, what happens in our communication with God?

Vocal prayer, the reciting of formula prayers such as the ‘Our Father’ or the Holy Rosary, is our side of a conversation with God. The words provide a guided path for what we are to say. When we pray, do the words just race by, or do we remember the One to whom we are speaking? Do we think about the words we are saying, or are they mechanically pronounced out of routine with little or no thought as to what the words mean?

When we pray, do we take any time to listen to what God might have to say? While we would not normally expect to hear His voice as we would hear the voice of another person, we often do receive a response through His Spirit, in a feeling of reassurance, or in a sense of what we should do. To listen in prayer takes a degree of stillness, focus, and time set aside just for the sake of listening.

Jesus advises us to be careful about how we pray: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.‘” (Matthew 6.7-8)

If the Father knows what we need before we ask, how much more will He also understand the state of our hearts and minds, better than we could understand them ourselves. His Spirit is truth, and it is important to speak to Him in truth – without self-illusions or false pretenses. We are who we are — frail and mortal creatures, and He is who He is — an infinitely loving Father and Creator.

In our mortal weakness, we often do not know how to pray as we ought. St. Paul teaches us that God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to aid us in our prayer. The Spirit can take the message of the words we say and purify it so that it is prepared for the ear of the Father. He can also take the spiritual response of the Father and translate it into a message we can receive in our mortal state.

In order for us to pray with the Spirit, our hearts need to be as fully engaged as possible at the time we pray. Good vocal prayer requires an effort to speak the words with reverence and care, keeping in mind Who we are speaking to. It requires a greater effort to be still and to listen for the Spirit’s response. One way that helps us to keep our focus, is to mentally have Jesus at our side when we pray.

St. Teresa of Jesus advises: “we are under the obligation of trying to pray attentively: may God grant that, by using these means, we may learn to say the Our Father well and not find ourselves thinking of something irrelevant. I have sometimes experienced this myself, and the best remedy I have found for it is to try to fix my mind on the Person by Whom the words were first spoken.” (The Way Of Perfection, 24.6)

With time and effort, the skill of authentic vocal prayer can belong to each and every one of us. Our Father loves us dearly and He yearns to hear us speak to Him. If we can approach Him with the trust and enthusiasm of a child chatting with his Father while sitting on His knee, we will be well on our way to praying as we ought to pray.

This poem expresses the beauty of vocal prayer spoken from the heart.

More Than Words

The Sign of the Cross prompts the heart,
In presence of the Trinity,
To open fully from the start –
Mortal before Divinity.

The first words of the ‘Our Father’
Draws our hearts to His loving grace;
He gives His Son as our brother –
To humbly meet us in our place.

From our souls, the Spirit’s outpoured,
To aid us in the prayer we’ve wrought,
In frail hearts to the Mighty Lord –
For we oft can’t pray as we ought.

In this way, God’s love undergirds
Communication, heart to Heart;
Far deeper than our thoughts or words –
Answers to our souls, He’ll impart.

United with Him as we pray;
We hear far more than words can say.

Holy Spirit, guide us in our prayer,
Fill our hearts with confidence and love;
As fragrant incense wafting in the air,
Perfect our words as they rise above. Amen.

Sources:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2699-2704

(c) Paul Buis, 2005