Our relationship with God is at its heart an interpersonal exchange. Although the ways we relate to our Lord in prayer are fundamentally different from how we relate to our spouses and our neighbors, there are also similarities that can help us to grow. In fact, the way we relate to others often has a strong connection with how we relate to God. Our ability to communicate our interior life is an important skill that allows us to share in the fullness that God intends.

There is a twofold movement that is involved with any conversation. Every conversation moves between giving and receiving. Some people can be very adept at giving and talking, but lack the empathy to receive and listen with an open disposition. Others are quite willing to listen, but they remain too passive and fail to bring themselves into their relationships. To master the art of conversation, a person must learn when to give and when to receive. This is true for our relationship with God and neighbor.

In our dialogue with God, God initiates the conversation. Through Divine revelation, God opens the way to communication and allows us to know his Divine plan. The height of this self-disclosure is the person of Jesus Christ, who in his person is the fullness of Divine revelation. Jesus Christ gives us access to the Father in ways that go beyond our natural ability. He communicates the Father’s love and the Father’s essence in ways that go beyond simply words and concepts. By entering into dialogue with Jesus, and through him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we are given the grace to become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

This dialogue often alternates between dialogue and simply resting in the Lord. Like our relationships with other people, we need not say much to our Lord in order to spend time with him. Although sharing the depths of interior life is essential, it need not be constant. In a similar way, all our human faculties are brought into play with Christian meditation. Our imagination, our emotions, our senses, all of them are purified and transfigured in the light of Christ.

For this reason, the tradition often distinguishes between the ways we relate to God. The tradition on prayer that developed between the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council distinguished between four ways that we approach the Lord. In the coming days, I will be exploring these four ways of relating to the Lord, and how they relate to our spiritual life.