There is a secret lie that I’ve held since childhood—that prayer is like recipe book or magical spell, wherein the perfect words get the perfect wish fulfilled. But, I often find it’s not the words themselves that matter. Rather, what leads me closer to Christ’s peace is an attitude of openness, the genuine leaning upon God, and a willingness simply to sit in the vulnerable quiet.
Romans Chapter 8 offers us the line: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” It’s always struck me as an odd line, because as someone who loves writing it seems like I should have those perfect words to make things turn out my way.
Yet, some of my most honest prayers have not been overly wordy, overly long, or even overly complex. Instead, they are nearer to the “inexpressible groanings” of my heart, because those are the most honest and direct lines to God’s heart.
Still, here is a poem for those who, like me, struggle with the imperfections and incompleteness of my language and words in prayer.
“The Spirit’s Whispers”
by Colten Biro, S.J.
If only my words were
poised, precise, perfect ballerinas.
If only they could pirouette on a point,
Holding a pose, arresting rapt attention,
Meaning twirling out past paradox of The Ineffable,
convincing the very orbit of the Son to stop and listen,
to nothing more significant—than me.
If only my words were quick, sharp, exact,
halting in the air for emphasis and recognition.
All of which calm, careful, and controlled.
All of which holding the attention of the Heavens,
interrupting an unceasing song of seraphim and cherubim.
If only my words were anything,
but garbled, goofy, grating,
and less akin to rodeo clowns than en pointe figurines.
But they are bumbling and boisterous,
threading a thin, thimble-like thought
that the gait of my racing heart
could avoid running into either
lines of bull—or truth too true.
Which means my words, in effect,
avoid bearing my very heart, directly to You.
If only the words, with a gentle extension
and a faint flourish, could entwine:
my desires—Your Will.
my loneliness—Your Presence.
my pain—the Resurrection.
my disquiet—Your Peace.
Completing a grand jete,
concepts midair—and mid-heart.
So, I don’t speak.
My words don’t waltz, so much as whimper.
And my seat here in the pew feels too quiet
in the muffled silence of the sanctuary.
Maybe, Lord, You have the words
I can perfectly perform,
to cry anything but Abba.
Which for now,
is the only word I pray,
while paralyzed in the repeating echoes
of my pointless pirouetting.