Godtalk: A Deeper form of Prayer
‘When we no longer know how to pray, the Spirit in us groans too deep for words, prays through us.’ Saint Paul assures us that there is deep prayer happening inside us beyond our conscious awareness and independent of our deliberate efforts. It is our innate desire, forever somewhat frustrated, making itself felt through our bodies and souls, silently begging to be fulfilled.
All life has powerful inner pressures and is not easily thwarted. It shows in the example of plants that push relentlessly and blindly towards their own ends, irrespective of resistance.
Sometimes, of course, resistance does kill them. Likewise there are storms we cannot weather. But we do weather most of what life throws at us and our deep life-principle remains strong and robust, even as on the surface the frustrations we have experienced and the dreams that have been crushed slowly silence us into a mute despair so that our prayer-lives begin to express less and less of what we are actually feeling.
But it is through that very frustration that the Spirit prays, silently, too deep for words. In our striving, our yearning, our broken dreams, our tears, the Spirit of God prays through us, as does our soul, our life-principle.
Powerful forces are working inside us, pushing us outward and upward to throw off whatever is restraining us. This is true, of course, also of our joys. The Spirit also prays through our gratitude, both when we express it consciously and even when we only sense it unconsciously.
Our deepest prayers are mostly not those we express in our churches and in private. Our deepest prayers are spoken in our silent gratitude and silent tears.
From this we can learn to forgive life a little more for its frustrations and we can learn to be more patient with life, more patient with ourselves. Who of us has not felt that the pressures and frustrations of life keep us from fully enjoying life’s pleasures, from smelling the flowers, from being more present to family, from celebrating with friends, from peaceful solitude, and from deeper prayer? We’ve all been there.
So we are forever making resolutions to slow down, to find a space inside our pressured lives in which to pray. But, after failing over and over again, we eventually despair of finding a quiet space for prayer in our lives. Although we need to continue to search for that, we can already live with the consolation that, deep down, our very frustration is already a prayer. In the groans of our inadequacy the Spirit is already praying through us in a way too deep for words.
One of the classic definitions of prayer defines prayer as lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally, both communally and privately, we fail to do that, namely, to actually lift our hearts and minds to God. Because what is really in our hearts and minds, alongside our gratitude and more gracious thoughts, is not something we generally connect with prayer at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, curses, sloth, and quiet despair are usually understood to be the very antithesis of prayer, something to be overcome in order to pray.
But something deeper is happening under the surface - our frustration, longing, jealousy, and escapist daydreams, things we are ashamed to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.
Peter Knott SJ