|Matiya Bradaska - Wikimedia Commons|
Think about this for a moment: We all talk to ourselves when our minds aren't occupied with something else, though this inner conversation can look different from person to person. It's kind of funny and even a bit sad, if you think about it. I've always wondered why man does this, why he has secret and sometimes odd conversations with himself, but that's not the important part. The important part is not the "why" of inner dialogue but the "with whom" of inner dialogue. I've learned some interesting things about our inner conversations, how it changes over time (if we cooperate with grace), and what it becomes: an intimate and constant conversation with God. Conversation may not even be the right word because it goes far beyond speaking and has more to do with leaning into God and listening with your heart.
But how does this prayerful listening come about? How does our inner dialogue move from a conversation with oneself to one with with God?
It comes about through the infused gifts of the Holy Spirit and a person's growing union with God. It progresses through the three stages of the interior life (purgative, illuminative, unitive) until it reaches perfect union with God.
According to Fr. Garrigou Lagrange, our interior conversation reveals to us a great deal about ourselves. For example, he states, "If a man is fundamentally egotistical, his intimate conversation with himself is inspired by sensuality or pride. He converses with himself about the object of his cupidity, of his envy..." In other words, his inner conversation is focused on himself and his inordinate attachments, whatever those things might be. He has set himself up as his own god so, it goes without saying, that his inner conversation will always be focused on himself. His life, his resentments, his wants, his happiness, his frustration, etc...
This inner conversation begins to change when a man is converted and begins to pray. It tends to be a long process with much purification needed.
A good example of how the movement of prayer switches from (I can't resist using these words) "self prayer or self contemplation" or "anti-contemplation" in a soul not in a state of grace to dialogue with God comes in the progressive stages of prayer: no prayer at all moves to vocal prayer, to mental prayer, to affective prayer, then to acquired contemplation (simple gaze), and then to infused prayer which originates with God, not man. The movement is away from self and towards God and as he grows in the love of God, this love manifests in his interior life by a growing dialogue with God, whether with or without words, as in contemplative prayer. This process happens through the activation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and an increase in the infused virtues by which the imagination/memory, the intellect, and the will are purified.
"The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God." (Fr. Garrigou- Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life)