When we are immersed in our silent prayer of attention, when we see more deeply, hear with greater sensitivity and reach out to others in touch, we can proceed a step further by hearing God speak in the inspired Scriptures and by responding to God.
If you are not ready for this stage, do not worry. Continue first to develop your prayer through the earlier stages. We should not try to run before we have managed to walk.
However, if you are ready to go deeper, do not hold back. And here it may be helpful to start from basic facts.
Our ancestors, from time immemorial, were convinced that the universe depends on a Creator. They believed that the whole of reality came about, and is held together, by a Divine Power. They gave this Divine Power various names, the names of gods and goddesses. They devised a multitude of ways to express adoration and worship. Religion is as old as our human race.
There are those who deny that Divinity exists. There are sceptics who maintain that God has never been seen, that his Presence cannot be proved. It is not my intention to argue with them here. If you want to pursue the argument, I refer you to a separate website Mystery and Beyond.
Here I rather draw your attention to the overwhelming human persuasion that the Creator found ways of actually communicating to us.
The experience of mystics
As we know now, the universe came about in an enormous explosion of energy. Could it have been a purely blind process? How is it that these physical forces eventually gave rise to people like us who think and care?
Where is MIND in all this? And LOVE?
Is it really credible to think that beings like ourselves who seek TRUTH and MEANING evolved by pure chance?
But if there is MIND, if there is an Ultimate Ground of Being, and if that Supreme Being wanted us to evolve as persons who know and love, would God not speak to us?
Would God not use our words and speak in a way we can understand?
In all the ancient religions there have been saints mystics who believed they were in contact with Ultimate Reality.
Their impressions have been recorded in such sacred books as the Rigveda, the Bhagavadgita, the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, the Qur'an, the Hymns of Guru Nanak, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and others. Though these writings are human, we have no reason to doubt that they contain genuine experiences of the Divine.
If we listen to their words attentively, we may hear God speak to us through those words.
The inspired word of God
For Jews the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, is God's Word, and for us, Christians, that Bible was extended with the New Testament writings such as the Gospels and the letters of the Apostles.
The books of the Bible, too, are human books: in the sense that they were written by human authors, who expressed their experiences of the Divine in the specific language of their own time. But we, Jews and Christians, believe that through these human words God has begun a conversation with us.
God knows our human life. God cares about us.
When God inspired Sacred Scripture, God did not intend first and foremost to impart some truths that we could not know otherwise.
God's overriding concern, to put it in human terms, was to establish contact.
Parents give life to their children. They feed them, dress them, protect them even before the children know them.
And then a process of establishing personal contact begins. It is a question of give and take, of finding out about each other. Awareness of the other grows. If the process follows its natural course, it forges strong bonds of friendship and love. God initiated a similar process of making contact with us in revealed Scripture.
The Bible contains numerous stories, reflecting all aspects of our life. The Bible expresses God's concern for us in a thousand and one human images. The Bible provides words of wisdom and guidance, blessings and warnings, encouragement and promise.
We find in the Bible models of personal prayer, ranging from laments of despair to songs of joy. There is no human depth that is not explored and expressed in poetic and provocative images in Sacred Scripture.
So when we are in our silent prayer, after our seeing and hearing and reaching out, and as part of it, why not go a step further? God is trying to talk to us, and touch us. Why not listen to God as God speaks to us in the words of Scripture?
Sometimes this means recalling a word of Scripture that we remember, a word related to the aspect of reality we are considering. Sometimes it means turning to the Bible and looking for an appropriate section. And as we read the text, we try to listen with our heart, knowing that God is saying something to us here and now.
God speaks out of love
When we wonder how to respond to God, and what words to use, it may help us to keep in mind how frequently the Bible compares God to a loving father.
'Our Father who art in heaven' is only an image, a human way of speaking, but it conveys a tremendous reality.
'I was the one who taught you to walk', God says. 'I took you up in my arms though you did not realise that it was I who took care of you. I embraced you with affection. I picked you up and pressed you to my cheek' (Hosea 11,3-4).
And what about this promise in which God speaks to us as a loving mother?
'Can a woman forget her own baby?
God's care and concern are, of course, also expressed in Jesus' moving parable of the prodigal son. God is like a loving father who is always ready to welcome us back with open arms whatever wrong we may have done! (Luke 15,11-32).
If we allow such a message to speak to our heart, we will naturally respond, by a simple prayer, in our own words; expressing our thanks, asking for help, or making a commitment.
'When you pray', Jesus reminds us, 'do not use a lot of meaningless words. Don't think God will listen to you because your prayer is long. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him' (Matthew 5,7-8).
Alone I walk'd the ocean strand,
Hannah Gould, American poet (1792 - 1850)
1. Based on Sirach 1,1-3:
All wisdom comes from the Lord
2. Based on Psalm 95,4-5:
In his hands are the depth of the earth,
What you should do
Start your inner prayer by drawing on your experiences of the
For the video clip from "The Seven Circles of Prayer" we obtained permission from the copyright owner Housetop. The text was taken from "Stepping into the Seven Circles of Prayer" by John Wijngaards who is also the author of this course; illustrations are by Alison Conti.