Part of my job is to pray. I am asked to pray frequently: every Sunday at worship, to open and close meetings, at meals and events. Often, when I ask someone what I can do for them, they will pause for a moment and say: "Pray."
Yet, like many of us, I feel like I don’t pray enough. Or I don’t pray well enough. I question whether I’m getting the words right, or if I’m really conveying what I’m feeling, or if I even know what to pray for.
Sometimes, in the middle of a prayer, I give up. I can’t find the words because there are no words. There is only a feeling – caught in my throat, or deep in my gut or heavy in my heart – and nothing I say or think can describe it or move it or lighten it. But in those moments, the Holy Spirit prays for me. Whenever we have those moments, the Holy Spirit is ready to work for us, and work on us. As Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
That is an image of prayer that has always been of comfort to me. In those moments in which the words will not come, in which the best that I can offer is my own silence, the Holy Spirit is there with me. The Holy Spirit is there with me as a companion in my wordlessness and my pain and my weakness. And even then, it is not words that the Holy Spirit offers, but a deep sigh, a reminder to breathe, and in that breathing we remember that it is God who breathed life into us, and who is present with us and present for us.
When we give up on trying to find the words, we can get to the feelings themselves. We can give them up to God, and ask God to take care of them and take care of us. We can share them with God, who will gladly bear our burdens with us. In the silence of our wordless prayers, there is sometimes only the sound of our own breathing, but beneath that, in the depths of our souls, the Holy Spirit breathes with us.
Perhaps especially now, when the weight feels particularly heavy, when there is so much to pray for, and there are so many to pray for, we will not always find the right words. But we will always find the Holy Spirit, waiting on us and waiting for us, to breathe alongside us and remind us that we are not alone, that we are cared for, that we are loved, that we are God's. Breathe.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, through your words the world came into being: light and dark, land and sea, heaven and earth. Your breath swept over the sea and you breathed life into humanity. Your Word was with you then, and remains with us forever. You breathe in us and through us, with us and for us.
Holy God, when we cannot find the words, help us breathe. When we cannot find the time, let our own breath remind us of our connection to you. When we cannot catch our breath for our busyness and our worry, give us your peace, which surpasses all understanding.
Loving God, be with us in these days of anxiety and fear. Calm our troubled hearts and racing minds. Fill us with your Spirit, so that we can breathe with you, and know that you are here with us, always and forever. All this, and more that lives deep in our hearts, we offer up to you, in the name of your Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.