How many of us are confident that we can pray as we ought? Some people may think that they can, but St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Rome in the 1st Century says that we cannot pray as we ought, but that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, and “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26) As I think and pray about it I tend to agree that when it comes right down to it Paul is right. We tend to follow patterns from the Prayer Book, or from childhood, or from some other source. Most of us don’t really pray as we ought.
Paul goes on to say that “God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v.27) Throughout the writings of Paul those who had become believers in Christ are referred to as saints (with a small “s”). We might keep this in mind as we draw nearer to All Saints’ Day next week, and consider how we can pray more as we ought to.
Each weekday morning as the Brothers of the SSJE Community gather here at the Monastery and at Emery House for the meeting that we call “Rounds” we sing a hymn to the Holy Spirit asking for inspiration and guidance at the beginning of the meeting, and pray a collect at the end asking for the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son, to guide our day. There are days when in spite of those prayers we find ourselves caught up in the daily business that each of us is involved in for this Monastery and at Emery House. I can’t speak for you, but I can imagine that it can be much the same for each of you.
This past week I was at Emery House for a week of personal retreat. One of the books that I took with me to read was a paperback entitled THE SHACK. This is a book that I have seen on the shelves of many different book stores during the past two or three years, but had resisted for some reason. Finally I decided that I ought to read it. It is a novel, but I found that it deals with some deeply spiritual matters. I found it both fascinating and a little disturbing in that it undertakes to portray the Holy Trinity as a middle aged African American woman, an Eastern Mediterranean man, and a young Asian woman. But as I got into reading the book I found that it was a refreshing way of breaking down stereotypes and taking a good look at our relationship with the persons of the Trinity, and their relationship with each other.
In one dialogue between “Sarayu”, the character portraying the Holy Spirit and the leading character of the novel, a man called “Mack”, she describes herself in terms of being a verb. She describes verbs as being “alive and full of grace”, whereas nouns tend to be dead and reeking of rules. Mack had been speaking of responsibility and expectation. Sarayu said that those words were nouns that were full of law and fear and judgment. For that reason the word responsibility will not be found in Scripture. The verbs respond and expect are alive and dynamic. (op. cit. pp. 223-224) The dialogue continued along those lines, emphasizing the qualities of action, life, and blessing.
We can apply some of that same principle to the words that we find in the last part of today’s reading from Romans when we see the words, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. (v. 30) If we see those words as verbs that are active, and infinite in their meaning, we can better understand the actions of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us “according to the will of God with sighs too deep for words.”
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