Think aloud in the presence of God

Some people find it quite difficult to speak to God in prayer. It may seem to them an awkward, perhaps even childish thing to do. It may somehow seem to make God small too. If God is the invisible Life Force in us, how can we pretend to have a conversation with him/her?

A prayer without words can be an excellent prayer. Often we can say more through a silent meditation than we could express otherwise. So we should not force ourselves to adopt anything we are not ready for, anything artificial.

We can learn from what occurs in marriage. A happily married couple who experience a dramatic event in life: the birth of a child, the loss of a close relative, the enjoyment of a new home, do not need to express their feelings and thoughts aloud. Since they understand each other so well through their mutual love, they can communicate volumes in perfect silence, just by being together. And then, at other times, they will feel the need to talk.

The same is true about us and God. On one level with communicate with God all the time in silence. But on another level, since God is personal it is natural for us to respond in words when we build up a relationship with God. God does not need to speak, but we sometimes do. We need to express the thoughts and feelings we have, so that we can clarify our relationship to God.

How can we do this in a dignified and responsible manner?

Speaking to oneself

As a first step I suggest that we adopt what psychologists call private speech. It consists in talking to ourselves, in verbalising what we feel or what we intend to do.

There was a time when it was thought that `talking to yourself' was somewhat abnormal, a sign of mental instability. Now we know that just the opposite is true. We do it all the time. And we need to do it because we cannot function properly without it.

Professor L. Vygotsky of Russia was the first to demonstrate convincingly that we use words to organise complex operations. Sometimes these words are spoken almost audibly in our mind, at other times the words lie hidden in our thoughts.

When a football player dribbles with the ball in front of the opponents' goal, he works out the tactics in his mind which he expresses to himself in inner words: "Turn on my left foot, push the ball to the right, swerve to the left to deceive the goalie, kick hard with my right foot," and so on.

Granny, when baking a cake, runs off a similar sequence in her mind: "Take the flour packet from the cupboard, pour out half a litre into the bowl, put the flour packet back, take the milk bottle from the fridge, etc, etc."

See: L.VYGOTSKY, Thought and Language, New York 1962.

Private speech is also important in relationships. We all know only too well how we rehearse in our mind what we plan to say when proposing marriage or when confronting our boss. By talking to ourselves about what we want to say and what not, we clarify the relationship and prepare our next step. Private speech is a form of self-education.

See: R.M.DIAZ and L.R.BERK (ed.), Private speech: From Social Interaction to Self-Regulation, Lawrence Erlbaum 1992.

Prayer of thinking aloud

Now read the following passage from a Jewish writer in Alexandria in the second century BC.

I considered all the injustices perpetrated on the earth. I saw the tears of the oppressed, and there was no one to give them comfort. The oppressors enjoyed power. No one was there to defend the underdog.

That is why it struck me that those who have already died are often better off than the living. And even happier than they are people who have never been born. These have been spared all the evil that happens on earth!

Again I observed all the toil people inflict on themselves by ambition and rivalry against their neighbour. It is utterly useless and a chasing of wind!

Another useless thing I have seen is a man who is totally alone. He has no relations - neither a son nor a brother, and yet he works himself to death. His eyes are always greedy for more riches, but he never stops to think: `For whom am I killing myself and depriving myself of all joy in life?' This too is a stupid and miserable existence!

. . . I have seen everything that happens on earth. It is all useless and a chasing of wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight. What is defective will not be repaired.

From Kohelet 4,1-8;1,14-15. This book is also known as Ecclesiastes.

I do not know what went through your mind when you read that passage? The moanings of an incorrigible pessimist perhaps? May be. The interesting point is that it is part of the Bible and - that it is a prayer!

When we think aloud in the presence of God we are actually praying. And the more truthful and honest we are, the better. Our thoughts will often be a mixture of wonder, doubt, indignation, gratitude, anger, you-name-it! That is the stuff of real prayer, of genuine communication with the Source of all we are.

Also, there is only a small step from such a `thinking aloud' to addressing our thoughts directly to God - if we want to do so.

Starting you off

There are a number of ways you might want to begin your `talking to yourself' in the presence of God. Allow me to suggest a method that involves a mirror, since mirrors can at times help us make our private speech explicit.

People in the Middle Ages knew a form of meditation called speculation, literally "gazing into a mirror". We will try this approach. Place yourself before a mirror. adopt inner withdrawal in silence described elsewhere. Then open your eyes and look at yourself.

First you take in your general features, those you are familiar with and, perhaps, others which you have never paid attention to. Then focus on your face, and especially on your eyes. Look as it were inside yourself. If it is possible, study your own reflection on the pupil of your eye. The experience will affect you in a strange way. Do not be afraid to face the reality of what you are. You may have defects, as all of us have. You also have personality. You are unique. You can be proud to be you.

Spend some time to reflect on your history, the struggles of your life, your achievements, your search. There will never be anyone else in the world exactly like you. You are unrepeatably unique.

Then move on to the inner world that is in you, the world of mind and heart that expresses itself in you. This requires a new way of looking at yourself, and observation with spiritual eyes. According to the Bible, understanding ourselves will, somehow, mean understanding God of whom we are a reflected image.

It is like this: when I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child and reasoned as a child does. But when I became an adult I put aside my childish ways.
In the same way, I am now only seeing things dimly, looking in a mirror; then I will see face to face.
Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully,
just as God understands me.

From: 1 Corinthians 13,11-12.

Then express your thoughts to yourself. Begin to `think aloud'. Tell yourself what you feel. Put into words what is most important to you.

And remember all the time that you are in the presence of God whose image you are.

Next? Go to:

Talk to God by talking to friends

How to stay in touch with God
Still the lake of your mind Think aloud in God's presence Talk to God by talking to friends Join a community of believers Make selfless love your highest priority Feel God's presence in all the love you meet


The text in this lesson is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.

The video clips are from Journey to the Centre of Love (scriptwriter & executive producer John Wijngaards) which was awarded the GRAND PRIX by the Tenth International Catholic Film Festival held in Warsaw (18-23 May 1995). It also received the prestigious Chris Award at the International Film Festival, Columbus Ohio, in 1997.