Frederick Buechner relays a short but powerful observation on prayer in his book, The Magnificent Defeat. In a chapter entitled, The Breaking of Silence, he offers this story which I will paraphrase.
Imagine two people sitting alone in a railroad station, just the two of them in this vast waiting space. They are seated at a short distance between one another but still within speaking distance. They are strangers to one another and wait in silence. Finally one of the persons ventures to speak. One never knows how to break an uncomfortable silence. And what if the other person doesn’t want to converse? How awkward it is, but finally you say something mostly out of impulse . As soon as you begin to speak, you are unsure of yourself and whether this is, in fact a good idea, but something prompts you to break the silence.
“Hi!” “Uh….this sitting and waiting is the pits, huh?” Depending on how the other person feels about striking up a conversation and breaking the silence, their response will tell you whether this interaction will continue or just awkwardly end kind of like it began.
While I have improvised and expanded Buechner’s story a bit, the essence is the same. It illustrates how silence is not easily broken. There are risks. There are implications. You might get more than you bargained for.
Calling out to God in prayer is a manner of speaking, a breaking of silence, if you please.
This is what I think, in essence, prayer is. It is the breaking of silence. It is the need to be known and the need to know. Prayer is the sound made by our deepest aloneness. I am thinking not just of formal prayers that a religious person might say in church or in bed at night, but of the kind of vestigial, broken fragments of prayer that people use without thinking of them as prayers: something terrible happens, and you might say, “God help us” ….etc.
I have noted that we are seldom satisfied with our prayer life. We always seem to yearn for something more. In a recent series of sermons on Prayer, I heard time and again the refrain, “I never seem to pray with the same expectation and exhilaration as the people of the Bible.” We seem to know that our prayers are lacking something. We want more, we just don’t know where to start.
I would suggest that a good starting point is to keep prayer simple and conversational. Talk to God as if he really is listening…..He is, after all. Prayer is a language of the heart. Let your heart open up to God as a trusted friend who will comfort, console and challenge, all in perfect measure.
Go ahead, break the silence. Pray.