A reflection on Romans 8:26-39, the epistle lesson for Proper 12a according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
“Would someone like to offer the prayer?”
Before you can count 1–2–3, every eye in the place is either looking at me, or doing everything they can to not make eye-contact with the person who asked that question. No one told me that’s what would come with my clerical collar: that when-in-public, I’m the go-to prayer guy, no questions asked.
It’s not that I mind praying. I like praying. A lot. In fact, I even think I’m pretty decent with “public praying.” But, it always makes me uncomfortable because I wonder if I’m robbing others of the opportunity to pray, to learn to pray, and to come to love praying.
And, I still remember the time when I was in my first year of seminary, and was asked to pray for someone in the hospital bed in front of me. I choked. I bombed. It was so bad, that after my shaky “amen” the chaplain behind me picked up the slack and offered another prayer, because mine was so incoherent.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.
And then there’s that.
Paul is speaking of something more than just “not knowing what to say.” He’s not speaking of #publicprayerfails. He’s not even speaking of that thing where you just can’t find the right words.
He’s talking about prayer in a much deeper sense. When it comes to communicating with an omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal God, we’re not communicating on anything I that even resembles the same level. We’re throwing out morse code, whereas God is capable of something even beyond highly integrated 60-GHz mm-wave circuits. (As if I even know what that means…)
We look at the world around us with such a small lens. We see only a few possibilities: war or no war; sick or cured; happy or sad. We see the world in black and white on a fuzzy CRT with bad reception. But, God sees from one horizon to the next, in crystal clear high-def. God sees infinite possibility.
So no, we don’t know how to pray as we ought.
But, that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Prayer. Really, it has nothing to do with the words. Nothing. I mean words are nice. Quaint.
But, real union with God comes not from words from from the sighs that are too deep for words.
The only thing that I can think of that it resembles is the wordless communication that happens between two people who know each other so well, that one person can send a signal with one raised eyebrow to the other person in the room…and the person knows exactly what it means.
And, with God, this is a gift of the Spirit.
So, yes, help people learn to offer the grace before meals by themselves. Teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie, and the General Thanksgiving. It will be good for them, and for their spirituality. But, also teach them to be with God, devoid of awkwardness and brimming with humility, casting off words and listening to each other’s sighs.