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Praying Without Words

Praying Without Words


Romans 8:26-39


How do you pray when words fail you?


That’s the first image we get in verses 26-27 in our reading this Sunday from Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Rome. That phrase certainly resonated with me, as I remembered how I felt when I experienced a devastating loss, or when I nearly bled to death after the birth of my first child.  Yet I needed to pray at those times more than ever, and as they say, “words failed me.” Yet God did not.


At times such as that, it is good to remember Jacob’s dream of the ladder between heaven and earth from last week’s Old Testament reading. That ladder was filled with angels ascending and descending from heaven to earth, and back again.  Angels are, we’ve been told, the messengers of God. Those angels remind us as we read that story that the channel is always open with God. This reminds us that prayer is a two-way street, as Paul also notes.

leptoconnect reviews At times when we have no words and can’t “pray as we ought,” God reaches out to us, as God always does. In all the cases in my own life where it could be said that words failed me, I had a wordless certainty that the Spirit of God was indeed with me, and with all those others who were suffering with me, and I knew the abiding presence of God.


When we feel lost or forsaken, God is there. As our psalm reminds us for Sunday, “Search for the Lord and his [sic] strength….” God is with us always. And Paul continues: “If God is for us, who is against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of God. There is a reason why some of today’s verses, beginning at verse 34, are among those that can be selected to be read at a Burial service (Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39). 


Jesus is not our accuser, but our advocate and intercessor. And within this reading, we see a description of the working of the Trinity: the Spirit helps us to pray when we are overcome; God the Creator is for us when all else seems to be arrayed against us and everything seems to be conspiring to break our spirits; the Son, Jesus Christ, has died for us and intercedes for us when we cannot intercede for ourselves. When we are suffering, which has been Paul’s topic since chapter 5 when combined with the idea of sin, God is with us.


The phrase “too deep for words” reminds me of a poem by William Wordsworth, entitled, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” It is long, but lovely, and speaks about the loss and recovery of childhood wonder at the beauty of nature. The final four verses are as follows:


Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


It is when we have thoughts that lie too deep for words or tears that God knows our prayers and longings, and come to us to meet us where we are.


How do you pray when words fail you?


The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.  She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.



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