Praying in groans too deep for words

This is a column I wrote that was published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.:

Several weeks ago, I was at a gathering of folks stricken with grief over the senseless and brutal murder of a member of our community, Kyle Marz. Someone there asked me, with barely contained tears, “How do I pray? How do I pray at a time like this?”

My reply was honest. I said, “Well, this is how I pray in a time like this. I fall to the earth and weep. I let my body collapse and cry out. I let the waves of heartbreak crash against the hard rocks of the reality that we are utterly powerless to change what happened. And then I just let myself be still, just an exhausted creature resting on the earth, knowing how in all this I and we are all held by a power much greater than the forces of the world.”

There is great truth I have found in times of hardship. In Paul’s wisdom he shared in his letter to the Romans (8:25-26). We don’t know how to pray, especially when we truly need to pray. But that doesn’t matter.

When we lay ourselves bare before God in our weakness, the spirit supports us in that weakness. The spirit moves through us with groans too deep for words. And thereby, despite ourselves, the spirit draws us closer to God and to God’s great life-giving power and mystery.

Jesus himself on the cross cried out raw and honest in his helplessness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Those very words were the cries of countless generations of his ancestors. They are from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? … I am poured out like water. All my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted in my breast. My mouth is dried up like potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death.”

When we are so near to the dust of death, it is only by crying out to God in all our pain and rage and fear and confusion that we can hope to pass through to new life, scars and all. Without that brutal honesty about the empty realm that violence opens up, attempts at consolation are too quick, speculations about meaning too shallow, calls to action too rootless.

But as the Psalms and as countless generations of the faithful testify, in times of great pain and hardship, when we trust the power of God enough to allow ourselves to be emptied out in our powerlessness, we can again be filled — filled to overflowing with new life and new resolve to live in defiance of those evil forces obsessed with death and domination.

This is the astonishing power that is ours when we trust as our redeemer the one who was crucified and raised up and transformed again into a living spirit on the move through a liberated community.

I see the spirit of that new life at work even now here, when the pain is still raw. A hole has been torn in the fabric of our community, yet those frayed and loose ends are finding each other in our weakness, out the need for mutual support. Those loose ends are knitting together stronger still.

God’s peace to the souls of all those whose lives have been torn away at the hands of violence. God’s peace and great courage to all those who remain.

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