“But, for me, in that moment, on that particular evening, the words simply would not come”
As a spiritual director, you might expect that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about prayer, talking about prayer, and actually praying. Lately I’ve been reflecting on how varied my experiences of prayer have been throughout my life. The most poignant moment of change happened when our son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This is how I wrote about it in Sacred Healing: MRIs , marigolds, and miracles :
When words won’t come
“As you might imagine, as this story began to intrude into our lives, prayer was a large part of our response. One evening in particular, when anxiety was high and comfort low, my husband asked me to spend some time in prayer with him.
His request was reasonable. For decades, we had prayed together about the various concerns that life had brought our way. In fact, years ago we had hosted a small group of fellow church members for a weekly prayer meeting in our home, repeatedly asking God to bless the small Bible church we were attending at the time. Conversational prayer had been a part of our lives for a long time.
But, for me, in that moment, on that particular evening, the words simply would not come. The openness in my heart and my deeply felt inclination toward God were definitely present, they simply could not be expressed, or perhaps better said, contained by words.
Though my silence was unsettling for my husband, I was more intrigued than upset. There was a real sense of freedom and a deeply seated peace as I let go of words. My longing, fully and authentically experienced in the presence of God more than expressed to God was enough. For the first time I knew that prayer of supplication happens even when words do not come.”
It was during that season that I also learned the value of visual aides in prayer. When I lost my words, I bought myself a beautiful necklace made of a Moreno glass bead that was about the same size as our son’s tumor. I wore it almost all the time, touching it often. Though in that season of trauma and fear my every breath was a prayer, it helped to touch and fiddle with the bead that held the special intention that somehow beauty would come from all this pain. God heard my cry.
Another visual aide I have learned along the way is praying in color, a form of prayer that involves simply doodling as you hold someone in your heart in prayer. I find it very helpful in relationships that feel especially heavy.
And then there is the practice of body prayer. When I think of this kind of prayer, I always think of Mary of Bethany and the three stories we have of her, all being at Jesus’ feet. Interestingly, each time she was there it was a completely different kind of prayer. First she sat to learn, then she fell to weep,and finally she knelt to worship him through anointing him. Changing our posture of prayer can be very powerful… standing, sitting, kneeling, lying prostrate or prone, feeling how the earth holds us tightly.
The labyrinth also uses the body combined with a visual aide. As an ancient practice of walking prayer along a set path, I have often encountered the nurturing Presence of God as I have walked labyrinths in many different places. (I encountered this one at Brookgreen Gardens on vacation last March in Myrtle Beach, SC).
I also think of the woman bent over. Her posture was a function of being bound by Satan and interestingly, seemed to reveal not only a physical bondage but also an oppression of spirit. She was not even seeking healing when Jesus saw her, had compassion on her, and freed her. Though she had no words and possibly even no hope or intention, her posture of being bent over was her prayer. I am amazed by how many times Jesus has offered me a freedom I did not even know I needed.
My favorite poem on prayer is from a poet I often reference, Alla Renee Bozarth. In it, she speaks with beauty and fluidity about prayer as doing and as being. These are some of my favorite lines:
So be awake to the life that is loving you
and sing your prayer, laugh your prayer,
dance your prayer, run
and weep and sweat your prayer,
sleep your prayer, eat your prayer,
paint, sculpt, hammer and read your prayer,
sweep, dig, rake, drive and hoe your prayer,
garden and farm and build and clean your prayer,
wash, iron, vacuum, sew, embroider and pickle your prayer,
compute, touch, bend and fold, but never delete
or mutilate your prayer….
Her words entice me to learn how to make every moment a prayer, my very being as fluid and constant connection with God. I recently encountered a series of three simple questions that have begun to help me wake up and shift my focus throughout the day:
What are you doing?
Who are you being when you are doing what you are doing?
Who are you not being when you are doing what you are doing?
So, I am wondering, how do you pray? Is it more about being? Doing? Words or visuals? What changes have you experienced through the years?