Groaning beyond words: Our deeper way of praying

Our deepest prayers are mostly not those we express in our churches and private oratories. Our deepest prayers are spoken in our silent gratitude and silent tears.

When we no longer know how to pray, the Spirit, in groans too deep for words, prays through us.

St. Paul wrote those words and they contain both a stunning revelation and a wonderful consolation — namely, there is deep prayer happening inside us beyond our conscious awareness and independent of our deliberate efforts. What is this unconscious prayer? It is our deep innate desire, relentlessly on fire, forever somewhat frustrated, making itself felt through the groaning of our bodies and souls, silently begging the very energies of the universe, not least God Himself, to let it come to consummation.

Allow me an analogy: Some years ago, a friend of mine bought a house that had sat empty and abandoned for a number of years. The surface of the driveway was cracked and a bamboo plant, now several feet high, had grown up through the pavement. My friend cut down the bamboo tree, chopped down several feet into its roots to try to destroy them, poured a chemical poison into the root system in hopes of killing whatever was left, packed some gravel over the spot, and paved over the top with a thick layer of concrete. 

But the little tree was not so easily thwarted. Two years later, the pavement began to heave as the bamboo plant again began to assert itself. Its powerful life-force was still blindly pushing outward and upward, cement blockage notwithstanding.

Life, all life, has powerful inner pressures and is not easily thwarted. It pushes relentlessly and blindly towards its own ends, irrespective of resistance. Sometimes resistance does kill it. There are, as the saying goes, storms we cannot weather.

But we do weather most of what life throws at us, and our deep life-principle remains strong and robust, even through the frustrations we have experienced. And the dreams in us that have been shamed slowly muzzle us into a mute despair so that our prayer-lives begin to express less and less of what we are actually feeling.

It is through that very frustration that the Spirit prays, darkly, silently, in groans too deep for words.

In our striving, our yearning, our broken dreams, our tears, in the daydreams we escape into, and even in our sexual desire, the Spirit of God prays through us, as does our soul, our life-principle. Like the life-forces innate in that bamboo plant, powerful forces are blindly working inside us too, pushing us outward and upward to eventually throw off whatever cement lies on top of us.

This is true, of course, also of our joys. The Spirit also prays through our gratitude, both when we express it consciously and even when we only sense it unconsciously.

Our deepest prayers are mostly not those we express in our churches and private oratories. Our deepest prayers are spoken in our silent gratitude and silent tears. The person praising God's name ecstatically and the person bitterly cursing God's name in anger are, in different ways, in radically different ways of groaning, both praying.

There are many lessons to be drawn from this. First, we can learn to forgive life a little more for its frustrations and we can learn to give ourselves permission to be more patient with life and with ourselves. Who of us does not lament that the pressures and frustrations of life keep us from fully enjoying life's pleasures, from smelling the flowers, from being more present to family, from celebrating with friends, from peaceful solitude, and from deeper prayer? So we are forever making resolutions to slow down, to find a quiet space inside our pressured lives in which to pray.

But, after failing over and over again, we eventually despair of finding a quiet, contemplative space for prayer in our lives. Although we need to continue to search for that, we can already live with the consolation that, deep down, our very frustration in not being able to find that quiet space is already a prayer. In the groans of our inadequacy, the Spirit is already praying through our bodies and souls in a way deeper than words.

One of the oldest, classical definitions of prayer defines it this way: Prayer is lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally, both communally and privately, we fail to do that, to actually lift our hearts and minds to God. Why? Because what is really in our hearts and minds, alongside our gratitude and more gracious thoughts, is not something we generally connect with prayer at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, lusts, curses, sloth and quiet despair are usually understood to be the very antithesis of prayer, something to be overcome in order to pray.

A deeper thing, however, is happening under the surface: Our frustration, longing, lust, jealousy and escapist daydreams, things we are ashamed to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

 

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.


Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

February 2016
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29

February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

Get our news by email

Bob Smith BMW 300x250
Bob Smith Toyota 300x250
Bob Smith Mini 300x250