“I called out to him with my mouth, my tongue shaped the sounds of music.”
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
As part of the choir I belong to, we often sing in other languages. In the past year, I have sung in Latin, Russian, Italian, and Spanish. One thing that has surprised me is how much singing in a foreign tongue changes the way I understand the song. Even though I sometimes I have no idea what the words mean, there is the music to help me along, to cue me to the emotion and story being told with the notes, and perhaps to understand it more fully than I would have if ordinary English words had gotten in the way.
I wonder if prayer is like that. I can pray, half in love with my own words even as I do it, marveling over a turn of phrase or even at the depths of my piety. And instantly despite my best efforts at humility, it’s more about my words than an honest expression of relationship. Last fall around this time, I attended the Intermission silent retreat run by Rev. Ron Klok. In my spiritual direction time, one thing we worked toward was getting to that point of honesty in prayer, beyond the words I thought I should say, the words that sounded pretty and impressed other people—to the music and the truth underneath being whispered by my deepest self. What is your soul saying? Ron asked me, a question I continue to ask myself on a regular basis. With that question, I go further to the place beyond and below words and resonate with something deeper. Something I too easily ignore, like the inside of an onion I consider too pretty and too much work to peel.
The place of the Spirit’s move in my prayers is the place when I fall out of love with my words, when I strip back the expectations and pretensions with which I approach God, and find myself catching hints of the music underneath. How does the Holy Spirit intercede with groans? Today it was in the moment I was caught unaware on my daily commute by the beauty of yellow leaves blowing across the road and felt in equal parts sorrow and delight. And it was also in the moment where my dog raced across a field of grass to scatter a flock of birds. His black fur was shining in the sun; the birds were silhouetted perfectly against the blue sky. Those moments moved me to tears, with prayers on my heart for which I could find no words, in equal parts both thanks and heartache. The Spirit groans, and I am silent in the music that is all around me. And from that place of stillness, perhaps I will one day learn to speak.