Sighs Too Deep for Words

Sometimes with full heart I fall on my face before God and weep my soul to the heavens. I rage and sob and struggle to pour forth my full measure. Plying the words that mingle with my tears I falter, trying plainness or eloquence or cursing—anything that might break through. On the edge of despair I am reduced to muttering the Name over and over in its many lesser names—“Oh God!” “Dear, gentle Jesus!”—and in the repetition the distinction between prayer and blasphemy begins to blur. I pray on, or I go to sleep.

I want to pray, but I do not know how. The impenetrable mystery is not the heavens, but my own heart. I live with it always, its constant rhythm sustaining me, and while I take it as evident that the people around me know nothing of what is in it, that I myself seem to know little more remains the painful secret that I carry. If I could know I could speak it, but I do not know.

This unknowing breeds a longing—a longing that feels like life itself, such that to let it go would be death. I yearn to untangle the web of a life complex beyond my comprehending, and this perception of my finitude stokes the hunger for prayer.

I strive to speak my soul, but I find only words. With these frail instruments I begin to piece myself together. Not knowing my soul, I create stories. Having burned through the first passion of my desire to pray, I fall into fits of reflection. Now and then a brief streak of light falls like a plumb line and shows me where my stories don’t match up, so I revise, and then I revise again. I begin to feel as though I know myself, and I start telling my stories to God.

In this new religion I occasionally experience the throes of what feels like worship. Just as often, though, and perhaps more, I recognize that I have mistaken the sound of my stories echoing in the rafters for the divine harmonies I would wish to sing if only I could quite make them out.

Then, sometimes, my stories founder on the shoals of my life. In these moments I know my soul from its bruise and ache, and I almost begin to feel that I can speak my self to God and be heard, and yet something still remains unutterable, for I am not my sorrows alone. Now I feel the pang of being timebound, for no one moment’s prayer can contain the plenitude of my experience, ranging over weeks and years, encompassing ecstasy, frustration, pleasurable solitude, anger, the quiet joy of springtime—so much more than I could hope to tell.

But the truth is that part of me doesn’t want to tell, for even in the small things that I tell other people, things approaching nowhere near the whole of me, I fear pain. Within me are landscapes that I wish none to see, not even myself. Even if I believe that God can see them, I like to pretend otherwise. Even if I could speak them, I wouldn’t. No, anything but that.

“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” This was Jesus’ prayer, and it may be the only true prayer, because the bitter cup is nothing more than prayer itself, this thing that I both want and do not want with all of my soul. Like many of my prayers, this one of his caromed off the firmament, but unlike me when he heard the ping of its return he went on to pray words that I often say but never quite manage to mean: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Jesus may not have wanted to speak his soul, and in speaking it to speak mine as well (or, more precisely, to speak the awful truth of my desire not to), and yet because his father wanted to hear he pressed on and, in incomprehensible agony, dared to speak.

This wanting to hear is love—love so painful and blinding that I turn away rather than face it or, like the disciples in the garden, I fall asleep rather than bear witness to it. I desire nothing more than to be loved for who I am—all of who I am—and yet the firmest of all my beliefs is that nobody could see all of me and love me, for I cannot even love myself that way. I pray because I long for God to be present with me, but the only way to call down that presence is to make myself present before God. This is not a task for a moment, though I will have my moments, but the grace in all of it is that God put me among people, so that I could learn to love God by trying to love people. In that sense, the truest prayer might be the broken music that I make when I try, against almost certain failure, to be present to another person and to open space for that person to be present to me. For when two or three are thus gathered in the name of God, there will God be present among them. The truest prayer is not “I” but “we.”

Comments

  1. An outstanding reflection, Jason. Honest, true, and poignant. This is easily the most moving sentence I have read this year:

    “This wanting to hear is love—love so painful and blinding that I turn away rather than face it or, like the disciples in the garden, I fall asleep rather than bear witness to it. ”

    Amen.

  2. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Mike. It means a lot, coming from you.

  3. Great stuff, Jason.

  4. This is truth. Thank you.

  5. This goes along with my thoughts this week. In many ways, Lent is the time of stripping away all the extraneous parts of ourselves, so that we can see them as clearly as Christ already does.

  6. melodynew says:

    The trouble with a post such as this is: it is too beautiful to respond to in words; too true, too much of what most of us feel and would say if we had your skill with words.

    On the internet, silence is ineffective in communicating our deepest feelings. Yet, silence is what this work of art (heart?) demands. Had you read this aloud in a room, say, with a few close friends, we would have wept with you. Then we would have been quiet together for a long, long time.

    “The truest prayer is not “I” but “we.””

  7. Thanks, Melody.