Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Groans that words cannot express

In high school, as a "typical, non-denominational, evangelical" teenager, I really had no framework or sense of appreciation for liturgical prayer. At the time, it seemed unforgivably impersonal, in a Christian climate where "personal relationship" was the litmus test for faith, and "personal experience" was the barometer by which that faith was measured and legitimized. In my arrogance and naivete I assumed that people who prayed "that way" were just haphazardly and inattentively rattling off an obligatory script. That their empty faith forced them to borrow other's prayers, rather than converse with God themselves. Oh, the foibles of my youth.

Now, on the verge of thirty, I think that liturgy resonates with me more deeply than just about anything else in my Christian tradition. The more brokenness I encounter, both in this world and inside of myself, the more I find myself at a loss for words.

At a loss for words to communicate the pangs of longing I feel internally, living in this tension that we call the now-but-not-yet.

At a loss for words that can possibly reconcile the unspeakable beauty of creation with the unspeakable horrors that play out inside it's borders, both of which take my breath away.

At a loss for words that can paint a tidy picture of what it means to live inside these moments and hours and days that are bursting at the seams with equal parts deep-seated faith and unshakeable doubt.

In the book of Romans I'm told that the Spirit of God intercedes for me in groans that my own words cannot express. "Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans." (Romans 8:26, The Message)

And these days I find similar comfort in the notion that generations of saints and sinners who walked this road before me, can give words to the groaning of my heart, when I simply cannot muster up the strength or the faith or the language necessary to do so myself. (Which I freely admit, these days, is more often than not.)

Several days back, when my friend Nate posted this Lenten prayer on his blog, I latched right on, and haven't loosened my grip since. I guess my hope in posting it here, is that someone else might hear the cries of their own heart echoed back to them in its words. That someone else might find comfort in knowing that their own private pangs and longings, sins and struggles, are universal. And that maybe, this particular set of phrases, cobbled together by a fellow disciple, can help catapult them from the posture of painful groaning to one of meaningful praying.

Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me
attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and with my neighbors on this earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams,
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be.
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day,
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.

Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of street people, in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people.
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time,
and possessions,
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.

Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
Grant me peace enough to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you…
only you!
Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me a torment,
storm enough to make within myself
and from myself,

something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.

(excerpted from Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, by Ted Loder )