Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and a newly released memoir, Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis.
A friend tells me she has no words left. I get it. Oh, do I get it. She tells me she doesn’t even have words to pray. I get that, too. I’ve been there more times than I can remember, when the words just won’t come, when I stare out the window at the blue or the gray or the black sky, wanting to pray, and I have no words.
I’m there now.
I sit at my computer, staring out the café window at the blue awning of Ken’s Market and the yellowing birch trees beyond it and the clouded sky beyond them, and I’m supposed to be writing a post about prayer, and I have no words. I spent them all on my book.
What do you do when words fail you? What do you do when you can’t pray?
My friend who’s run out of words tells me that for the better part of a year, her prayer life consisted of reading Streams in the Desert day after day after day.
And I realize that I do that, too—turn to others’ words when I don’t have my own. It’s why I’m such an avid reader, and why I own so many prayer books. When I can’t generate words of my own, I simply read the words of someone else. If I have enough energy, I ingest them. These days, I don’t have enough energy. So I just murmur the words on my lips or send them silently from my eyes to my brain. It feels so…not enough.
But I’ve been here before, so I’m learning that this weary wordlessness will pass and that keeping the faith is not a matter of generating anything at all, not emotions, not passion, not desire, not even words. It’s a matter of faithfulness. Hence, faith.
So I open Daily Strength for Daily Needs, and I read these words of Julian of Norwich:
He showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel-nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as meseemed, and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereon with the eye of my understanding, and thought, “What may this be?” and it was answered generally thus, “It is all that is made.”
I marveled how it might last; for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding, “It lasteth, and ever shall: For God loveth it. And so hath all things being by the love of God.”
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is, that God made it. The second is, that God loveth it. The third is, that God keepeth it.
For this is the cause which we be not all in ease of heart and soul: for we seek here rest in this thing which is so little, where no rest is in: and we know not our God that is all Mighty, all Wise, and all God, for He is very rest. God wills to be known, and it pleaseth Him that we rest us in Him. For all that is beneath Him, sufficeth not us.
And I trust (sort of) that God will hear these words on my lips and know that I want to believe them, want to ingest them, want to make them mine, even though I’m feeling listless and stale and oh so tired. I want to find my rest in God. I do. Because I am that tired. I want to know God loves me. Because I am that vulnerable and small right now, a mere hazel-nut of a human being. I want to believe that God made me. Because the voice of materialism hisses in my ears, trying to tell me that I am dust, no more, no less, and certainly not God-breathed.
And so I read Mother Julian’s words, again and again and again. I have no words of my own. But I have hers. And since we are both in Christ, we are the same body. Her words are my words, the cry of my heart, the longing of my soul, the prayer on my lips.
For anyone who finds no words to pray, there is a wealth of riches in our heritage as Christians. I highly recommend Daily Strength for Daily Needs and Streams in the Desert as well as The Book of Common Prayer and Phyllis Tickle’s three-book series The Divine Hours. All have Scripture, prayers, poetry, and prose to feed your starving soul during those times of spiritual drought that we all encounter from time to time.
Your recommendations are wonderful. I have used them all and continue to draw sustenance from the Book of Common Prayer (although I am now a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church). I also recommend “Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community”. My pastor began using this wonderful payerbook over a year ago in preparation for his three-month sabbatical this summer, which was focused on Celtic spirituality. He shared his enthusiasm for this book with his congregation, and several of us have started using it in our daily prayer time. Other recommendations are the New Zealand Prayer Book and anything written by Joyce Rupp and Frederick Buechner.
Thanks Nadine. I also like David Adams book The Celtic Way of Prayer. Have you seen that one?
Yes, Christine, I have used his “Rhythm of Life” for a long time and still return to it occasionally. I also love his “Island of Light” and “Landscapes of Light”, whicha are small prayerbooks illustrated with beautiful photography from Lindisfarne.
Yes I love those too. I find Rhythm of life is a great one to travel with – just the right size
Thank you so much for your inspiration. Prayer–our most important connection with God. Yet he knows us so well, even what we can’t put into words is uttered just by our sighs.Peace.