Sounds that cannot be put into words

We creative types find inspiration in strange places.

As I sorted through an inch and half of papers I’ve collected over the years, I came across this checkbook cover. The pile included outlines for books I want to write, ideas for prayers, edited and unedited essays I’ve attempted, pages ripped from magazines and bits and pieces of quotes that moved me.

The uncredited quote reads:

It is love that enables us
to do the work,
and the work
that we do is love.

Other notes on the checkbook cover are dollar amounts and phrases like “painting company” and “dining room table” so I’m guessing I heard this quote during the reconstruction of the old church that we turned into our home four years ago. The quote perfectly captured what we were doing by renovating that historic old building.

Also in my random pile of inspiration, I ran across a snippet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

Love is a smoke rais’d with the fume of sighs.

On their face, these quotes are about love. But I filed them in my “prayer ideas” folder because I think they’re about prayer: It is prayer, raised on the fume of sighs, that enables us to do that work, and the work that we do is love.

This philosophy of prayer reminds me of the Bible verse that advises us our prayers don’t have to be worded perfectly.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to prayer as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with sighs too deep for words.

~ Romans 8:26 RSV

Though I love language—and when I write prayers, I strive for beauty and poetry—I am reassured knowing that when I fall short, God gets it anyway. God understands my soul’s deepest desire when I can’t put it into words and sometimes, even when I myself don’t understand what I’m asking for. The truth is out there (this is the tagline for The X Files, and wouldn’t you agree the way prayer works belongs in an X file?). God listens when I speak and, when I shut my mouth long enough to listen, he speaks.

Several years ago, I spent the winter on South Padre Island. On a beach drive one morning, my husband and I were astounded to find thousands of grotesquely beautiful blue jellyfish littering the shore.

Inspired by this event, I wrote “A Jellyfish Prayer” recently trying to capture the juxtaposition and contrast of these creatures:

I am gently suspended in your watery grasp or roughly thrown upon the beach, beaten by the ocean’s waves.

I am beautiful and my sting is poisonous.

As I am swept up and submerged by life, let your nourishing waters ripple across my skin. Hear my cries of love and lament.

Grant me freedom from worry when there isn’t an answer.

And when there aren’t words, I know God still hears my prayer.


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