Pondering Prayer

The following quotation comes from a paraphrase of the Bible, called The Message, written by Eugene Peterson. I’ve been pondering prayer this morning, in preparation for Reformation Sunday. In this passage, Peterson works with Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and speaks of waiting for God in a beautiful way, one that I normally associate with Advent. I’m sharing it here this morning, because it spoke to me, and perhaps it will speak to you.
Romans 8: 22-28, as paraphrased in The Message.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

I’m not sure about you, but when the fall comes, I often experience a sense of loss. It’s as much a reaction to the darkening days, as it is the loss of summer’s open schedule, not so much for myself, even, but for the members of our congregation, and the ramped up busyness of fall schedules. Everyone is busier, and not entirely happy about it. This year, with long-term economic struggles for most folks, the busyness is tinged with more anxiety than I’ve seen in people for a long time.

This fall, the early morning hours, in their quiet darkness, have become a way of remembering freedom, remembering spaciousness, and working my way slowly back to them, the way you tack against the wind in a sailboat, or paddle against a current in a kayak. Just up river is an island of peace. Despite the loss of warmth and sun, I’m glad for these times of emptiness and silent prayer. No words, Paul observes, are needed, for God is already praying in and through us. I’m glad faith is a gift–I can’t manufacture it through mental exercises or spiritual practices, or works of mercy–it’s straight from God. And if I have the capacity to receive faith, that too, is God’s work , an enlargement of the soul, an expansion of heart, more spaciousness. Paul puts it so beautifully: “We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” Here on Cape Ann, today is a cold, blustery, sunny October morning–may the Holy Spirit stir a joyful expectancy, and take us all into a swirling dance, the way the winds of October swirl the leaves of our birch tree into the sky.

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