One of the first things my husband Mike learned about me was that I love to play “Scrabble.” So after he and I had been dating for a couple of weeks, Mike surprised me with the gift of a deluxe “Scrabble” game, a snazzy edition with a turntable board. As Mike tells the story, I responded with a perfunctory “Thanks” before setting the game aside to blithely resume channel-surfing.
Well, I don’t recall the incident taking place in quite that way. What I do remember is the beaming smile on Mike’s face. I also remember holding the bright blue game box and feeling the thrill of ownership. And I remember a rising sense of panic at the realization that I didn’t know how to respond to Mike’s thoughtfulness. I was so touched that I was dumbstruck.
Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes? The more we want to articulate our feelings, the less we’re able to express them.
We might experience something similar in prayer. What can we say to express our gratitude to God for the undeserved gifts He gives us? What words can adequately convey our contrition for sin? How can we present our petitions when emotion renders us silent?
The most important thing to do is to invoke the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us: “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
We might also consider dusting off one of those old-fashioned prayerbooks that contain prayers for every imaginable need or occasion. Yes, there are ways to “find the words.” And we need words to speak to God.
Or do we? In his book, “Prayer for Beginners,” Peter Kreeft makes a surprising statement: “When we pray, instead of trying to produce love in our souls toward God, we should be basking in God’s love for us.”
What image does the word “bask” bring to mind? I think of someone relaxing on a beach, soaking up the sun. Or maybe Nick Foles in his glory, after the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl win. There is, in both these scenarios, a quiet relishing that transcends language. It is similar to the act of “basking in God’s love,” that is, the wordless enjoyment of the all-embracing love of the Father.
To St. Therese of Lisieux, prayer was “a surge of the heart; a simple look turned toward heaven … a cry of recognition and of love.” It was an act of communication – or more accurately, of communion – with God for which words were not necessary.
It’s said that, in his small country church in Ars, France, St. John Vianney would often notice a certain farmer sitting for long periods of time before the Most Blessed Sacrament. One day, the saint asked the man what he did during that time. The farmer responded, “I look at Him and He looks at me.” His prayer was simply a loving gaze.
In our day-to-day lives, we don’t always know what to say or how to say it. Articulating our feelings can be like trying to form “Scrabble” words from nothing but consonants. But when we’re at prayer, we don’t need to worry over the words that are in play. We need only bask in His love.
By Celeste Behe, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown. Find her online at www.CelesteBehe.com.