A week ago I turned on the TV in the morning, taking my chances, as I often do, that the news wouldn’t horrify or enrage me, as it tends to. The first image I saw was an aerial shot of water sweeping through a densely packed area. Japan was underwater.
I did what I do in most situations like that: I started to cry. The ease with which tears visit me has occasionally been a source of embarrassment for me, but I am learning to embrace it. When something shocks or moves me, my body reacts. This visceral shift is something I have come to associate with prayer.
If feeling something grab at your guts and allowing it to yank your heart around is prayer, then I am very, very good at it. But every time I think about the frequency with which I am inspired to pray spontaneously, I am simultaneously chagrined that I have never been very good and “just sitting at praying”, as it were. I have trouble planning prayer.
Since I surround myself with thoughtful and spiritual people, I have a lot of conversations about prayer. One friend admits she “only” wishes for the best for people when she prays. Others are sheepish that they spend their prayer on willing themselves into the best possible people they can be. And I lament that I my gift is merely a heart that explodes with love.
We all apologize for not being good at praying. But maybe we’re not doing too bad?
Earlier this week the Gospel for the day included the line “This is how you are to pray“. In now-familiar terms Jesus laid out the basics. Praise God. Express desire for God’s reign on earth. Ask for just enough. Ask for mercy. Promise to be merciful. Ask for help staying out of trouble. I can handle that. But I had one complaint.
On days that I take issue with the Word, I console myself that at least that means I’m listening. I was not happy to hear the Gospel begin with the recommendation “In praying, do not babble like the pagans”. While I am not particularly pro-pagan, I am very pro-babbling.
Effusiveness, whether I like it or not, is part of my spirituality. I waste words all over the place trying to express all the things that cannot be explained: love and grace and prayer. In the great struggle of life – meaning-making – I have fortified myself with words: spoken, sung, read, written.
The Scripture scholars could tell me all about the verb “to babble”, and the historical context of the reproof, and the intended audience. I hope all of those facts would exonerate me for my garrulousness. For now I will go on with my holy babbling, hoping that my desire to touch heaven through words will excuse my rambling and will make my prayer pleasing.