In one of my first pastoral experiences I had to deal with a question difficult to address. I was teaching a group about praying, about the importance of opening yourself to listen to God. After that meeting, one of those youngsters came to me and asked: "How does the voice of God sound?” He believed it was possible to pray, but he did not have a clear experience of praying, and even less of dialoguing with God.
What is God’s tone of the voice? What does He talk about? How to know if I am really listening to Him?
Saint Ignatius, when he developed the Spiritual Exercises, highlighted the importance of if silence. The idea is to develop one’s "own" language to communicate with God. It’s like when we spend a long time with a friend and reach a point in which we don’t need to talk, because a simple gesture, a look, or even a sigh can sufficiently express meaning to those who know us very well. Thus, God’s "tone of voice" is something we cannot explain by using just words, it needs to be experienced, and it needs to be discovered while praying. In cannot be simply theorized, it needs to be an experience. Proceeding with the friend analogy: it’s no use to elaborate a sign language manual to interpret gestures; it is necessary to interact, to enjoy a deep mutual encounter, in order to decipher such a peculiar language.
Saint Theresa says that a pray is like "managing a friendship – while often dealing with it alone – with the One we know loves us"*. In that sense, learning to pray is to start that dialogue without any fear. If we do not venture to develop that relationship, we’ll never know what such encounter means. Sometimes God also talks in silence, by teaching us to wait, to be patient. Sometimes it is very clear and arouses in our hearts a movement that leads us to find who we are and how to be happy. On other occasions, it empowers us to keep persevering.
It is worth stressing two elements of Saint Theresa’s speeches: "often being" and "dealing with it alone" with God. Knowing how to pray is actually like developing a relationship. Knowing how to pray is like spending a long time alone with God. Knowing how to pray is simply like "managing a friendship". We know by experience that there aren’t specific formulas to develop a friendship. Therefore, the methods and means available for praying are good and useful, but only to the extent that they enable us to enhance our relationship with God, and to grow while nurturing our friendship with Him.
Finally, to know how to pray, perhaps it is worth reminding what Jesus answered when His disciples asked the same thing to Him. The Gospels witness the Our Father prayer. By following Saint Theresa’s proposal, we may stop and enjoy what it means to be able to get closer to God as our Father. Perhaps, by particularly reflecting that He asked us to call Him not only "Father", but also "our Father ". Also the fact that we manifest our desire to be close to Him (in the first three petitions), or our need to be blessed by His fatherly providence (the last four petitions).
*Mentioned in item 2709 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
**The Catechism of the Catholic Church, items 2759 to 2865, includes a very beautiful section that expands the Our Father prayer, the prayer that "summarizes the entire Gospel".