Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sighs too Deep for Words......

This is by John Coleman.  He is a friend from college and law school. He left the practice of law to go to seminary and is the rector at Ascension Episcopal in Montgomery. 
The telephone call took me by surprise. Calls like this one always do. Even when you expect the news-it’s still a shock. If I wanted to visit with Tom, I should go to Atlanta as soon as possible. Hospice was called in and they felt he was very near the end of his life on earth. What?! I had just seen Tom a few months earlier and it seemed like he was doing better. He had battled cancer for years, but looked like he was on solid ground in the fight. And now it was time to say goodbye?
I took a deep breath and let it out in one big sigh. It was all I could manage. I guess I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m praying for you,” I would say each time I saw him. I was praying for Tom. He knew that; wasn’t that enough? I was overcome with the call to give him more than my assurances. I cleared the deck of a crazy schedule, got in my car and headed to Atlanta.

And then I heard the voice. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the voice that second guesses everything you do, so you end up doing just what you’ve always done, or worse, you do nothing.

“You haven’t seen him in months," the voice chided. "You don’t talk to him regularly. He knows you’re praying for him. You can just send a note.” And then the question that stops so many thundered out. "What are you going to say?!”

I’ve been with people in some of the most difficult circumstances in life. And yet there are times when I still struggle with what to say or do. I always feel like I should have the right words, say the right things and pray the right prayers, after all I'm a priest. And yet all those words in the face of some kinds of suffering can seem empty.

I know I'm not alone in this feeling. I hear these comments all the time: "I wouldn't know what to say." "I'm no good at praying out loud." "I don't know what to do." I watch as these words stop people from doing anything.

As I drove toward Atlanta I was reminded of the Apostle Paul's words in Romans. "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And 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." Romans 8:26-27.

The Spirit of God joins our sigh over the struggles and pain in this world. When we don't have the words or know what to do, God fills in the gaps with "sighs too deep for words." The immortal and omnipotent God sighs because He identifies with us. The life of Jesus shows us this. He was plunged into a sea of vulnerability and was subjected to rejection, hunger, weakness, pain and death. His life also shows us that God ultimately brings new life. God controls it all, even when we can't see it or when things don't go the way we would will them. And how we experience our present is completely shaped by what we believe about our future. Our sigh can be the end of it and we can give in to the anxiety, or we can remember the character and history of God.

I walked into Tom's room. His breathing was shallow and labored. He looked at me and struggled to say hi. He couldn't speak more than a word or two, so I talked a little.

I reminded him about the time we first met at a company convention. I thanked him for introducing me to jazz music. Then I prayed for awhile. And then...silence. I sighed. I was out of words and somehow that was just fine. The words were just getting in the way.

I spied a CD player in the corner of the room, so I picked out a Chris Botti jazz selection and hit play. The music filled the room as I sat next to his bed. I held his hand in silence and listened.

And then I heard the voice. It was more of a sigh or groan. I'm sure it was the breath of the Holy Spirit and it rippled over the music and our breathing to the ears of God. I heard it and I'm pretty sure Tom did too. It was the best prayer of all. Without words it reminded us of whose we are and who holds every moment of yesterday, today and tomorrow in the palm of his hand. And through the sadness and suffering the room filled with hope.

There are times when we don't need to have the right words. We aren't required to have it all figured out and arrive with just the right action to save the day. We don't even have to say or do anything. We just have to show up and be fully present. We are after all called to be faithful, not perfect. And when we're open to the movement and will of God, God uses us, even when we try our best to get in the way.

Even when all we do is sit silently with a friend.

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