One of my favorite meditations is lectio divina, or sacred reading. I like to meditate on the day's Gospel reading and evaluate whether or not I have acted according to Jesus' values.
I recently meditated on a line from Matthew's Gospel:
Jesus said to his disciples: “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. (Matthew 6:7-8)
I imagined myself asking Jesus how to pray. The conversation went a little like this:
"Jesus, tell me how to pray."
"Well Bob, all you need--"
"I mean, I don't want words to memorize--anyone can memorize prayers. Words can be little more than pious nonsense. I want prayer to mean something, to make me feel whole."
"Right. I get it. This is how you should--"
"Peace, that's what I'm looking for, Jesus. You know what I'm saying? And understanding. Peace and understanding. But most of the prayers I know, they just seem like recipes, and I worry, am I saying the right words? Did I forget something? If I leave out the right word, or if I say 'your" instead of 'thy,' will my prayer be ineffective?"
"Prayer is never ineffective, Bob. This is what you gotta do--"
"Right! So how should I do it?"
"Well if you would shut up and listen, I'll tell you!"
Yes--in my imagination, Jesus yells at me. I provoke him. That's when I realized: I babble. And when I babble on and on and on, I will not learn anything. So how can I make sure I don't babble? Here are some ways:
- Enter every conversation with humility. Every person I converse with has something valuable to say. I need to remember that It is more important to listen to them and their concerns than it is for me to state my opinion.
- Be grateful. Conversation is the gift in which people offer themselves. I want to accept that gift with gratitude.
- Embrace poverty. When I relinquish my opinions about what the other person is saying, I find that it is harder for me to be judgmental and easier to be compassionate.
- Keep an open mind. A closed mind prevents love from flowing. And when I let love flow, I can be kind.
- Trust in the person's goodness. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, many (most?) of my conversations end up in arguments. I need to remember that even though I may disagree with another person, they are still a person worthy of dignity, respect, and love.
Humility, gratitude, poverty, openness, and trust--these are they keys to making a conversation into a spiritual exercise. These keys will unlock my ears so that I can be attentive to other people. And if I am attentive to other people in conversation, I will learn how to be attentive to God in prayer.