For all the hundreds of languages, thousands of words and millions of speakers that make communicating in our world such a rich (albeit challenging) experience, sometimes words just don’t cut it. There are certain experiences and emotions that seem impossible to sum up, even if one thumbed through the most expansive of thesauruses. On the other hand, there are times when words seem altogether too clunky and unwieldy; when silence is infinitely more appropriate. I find this never more apparent when I try to pray: some issues are so vast and seemingly unchangeable that my prayers appear puny and woefully unrepresentative of the subject; others require more than my scope of vocabulary to demonstrate how overwhelmed/overjoyed/awed/grateful I am. Considering that there are over a quarter of a million words in the English language, this is not so much a problem with words as with knowing how to communicate in prayer.
I had a discussion about this in a recent church life group, and our conclusion was that we should not feel limited to word-based prayer, because God most certainly isn’t. We needn’t get stuck on what to say because there are numerous other options through which we can express our heart’s message. Our Creator God is creative – he doesn’t ask for eloquent, sharply executed, theologically sound and well structured ideas when we kneel before him. If this were the case, most of the world would be excluded, and that is in direct opposition to God’s desire. Instead we can approach with songs and instruments, dance, drama, painting, drawing, photography, film… God knows us wholly, and has already given us the means through which to draw close to Him. It may take a bit of imagination and confidence to try something different, but it can be so refreshing to sidestep the pressure of concocting the ‘perfectly formed prayer’.
There is always, of course, the Lord’s Prayer – it was spoken by Jesus after all. It is so frequently recited that there is the danger of reeling it off without much considering what is being said, but the Message version of the Bible gives a new interpretation:
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.