Our interior conversations come to silence when we learn to transform them into prayer. As a rule, only God can have direct access to the hidden thoughts of our hearts and minds. But it is commonly held that the saints and angels can also know our thoughts when we freely choose to speak to them interiorly. By the act of our will—through which we direct our thoughts toward a particular angel or saint in prayer—we open those specific thoughts to them. This does not constitute a “public broadcast” of our thoughts to any angel or devil who happens to be in the area. It is limited to those to whom we will to address them. We can choose to address more than one person at a time.
This means that we can pray silently to God, to Mary, and to the angels and saints from the secret recesses of our hearts in any situation. It is a precious gift that is unfortunately very often neglected. How often we spend hours of the day speaking interiorly to those who cannot possibly hear, while those loving friends (God and His angels and saints who can hear) are ignored and left out of the conversation. The habit of speaking continually to God in our hearts goes hand in hand with recollection—with walking consciously in the presence of God and His holy angels. As St. Teresa of Ávila says, the foundation of the spiritual life is recollection, which is the awareness of God’s presence. It is not a mystical degree of contemplation that is given to consecrated souls. It is the way to practice the most basic types of vocal prayer.
But as I am speaking only about the way to recite vocal prayers well, there is no need for me to say as much as this. All I want is that we should know and abide with the Person with Whom we are speaking and not turn our backs upon Him; for that, it seems to me, is what we are doing when we talk to God and yet think of all kinds of vanity. The whole mischief comes from our not really grasping the fact that He is near us and imagining Him far away—so far, that we shall have to go to Heaven in order to find Him. How is it, Lord, that we do not look at Thy face when it is so near us? We do not think people are listening to us when we are speaking to them unless we see them looking at us. And do we close our eyes so as not to see that Thou art looking at us? How can we know if Thou hast heard what we say to Thee? The great thing I should like to teach you is that, in order to accustom ourselves gradually to giving our minds confidence so that we may readily understand what we are saying and with Whom we are speaking, we must recollect our outward senses, take charge of them ourselves and give them something which will occupy them. It is in this way that we have Heaven within ourselves since the Lord of Heaven is there.
We begin prayer by placing ourselves in the presence of God, pausing to reflect upon the fact that God is present to us and we are speaking with Him. That reflection upon God’s presence should permeate our time of prayer. In fact, this awareness should permeate more and more our entire lives. In this way, our entire lives become permeated with the presence of God. With this comes also the awareness that He can hear our interior conversations throughout the day. In the light of this awareness, we realize that it would be foolish to waste the possibility of having an interior conversation by directing our thoughts to people who cannot hear it.
In the context of our consideration of this ability to hold interior conversations, it is important to note an especially subtle form of distraction in prayer that often goes unnoticed. While in prayer, we sometimes find ourselves explaining some lovely spiritual truth or important doctrine to some other person who is not present. We must not suppose that this is really prayer. Prayer is the elevation of the mind to God (or to some holy person whose intercession with God we seek). If, instead of lifting our minds and attention to God, we find ourselves describing or discussing things interiorly with others (even if they are spiritual things) rather than praying, then we are merely entertaining distractions. Such an interior conversation does not lead to a discourse with God or the angels and saints and therefore is not prayer. The reason this is such a subtle distraction is because we can so easily, and yet wrongly, think that we are praying, since we are speaking interiorly about spiritual things.
There are two ways of dealing with distractions, depending on the matter that causes them. If we find that during prayer we are discussing something that’s just silly or of no real concern, we should bring this line of thought to a stop and gently try to redirect our thoughts to God. If we find, however, that we are going over and over very serious concerns and problems and preoccupations that are of great weight, then this matter of distraction should not be suppressed but should be integrated into our prayer. That is to say, rather than mull over these matters with ourselves, we should redirect those thoughts to God. We present to God what is troubling us. We express our desire for His help and enlightenment in the matter. In this way, those things that were once distractions are now part of our prayer. As often as they come back and we find ourselves collapsing back into our own closed consideration of the matter, we offer them again to God, redirecting our thoughts once more to Him.
This form of silence may be a long, arduous struggle. But this kind of “spiritual exercise” is of the utmost importance in the growth of faith. Practicing this type of focus in prayer should also have a formative effect on our dealings with the people with whom we interact daily. Just as we should be attentive to the One to whom we address our prayers, so also we should give our full consideration to those who speak with us or to whom we speak. The ability to multitask should not sully our interpersonal relations by taking from others our undivided attention—the attention that Jesus Himself desires when He comes to us disguised as the least of our brethren.
With true silence from interior conversations, the soul withdraws into the deepest depths of the sanctuary of the heart, the “interior castle,” where God dwells. The soul is free from the vain and useless disturbances that so frequently accompany the conversations that we imagine having with others. Rather, the soul rests in the presence of her Beloved and the friends of the Bridegroom of the soul. She speaks in simplicity and sincerity of heart, hiding nothing, sharing all things with her Lord, her Love.