I’m usually more of a night owl than an early riser. This summer, however, I’ve found myself awakening early on many mornings. I step onto the back deck to fill the birdfeeders while soft streams of light emerge against the shadows. I enjoy the fresh smells, the glancing sheen of nascent sunlight on the dew-laced grass, the whispers of wings, breezes through leaves. Some days I feel an overwhelming sense of joy, a gratitude that I cannot find the words to express. Something deep within me wants to say thank you for life and breath. And yet, “Thank you, Lord,” doesn’t capture the fullness of the awe, gratitude, meaning, connection, and coherence I feel. Efforts at speech fail. I find no words to utter that are worthy of either the feeling or of the One I desire to address.
I’m reminded of the hymn, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.” Maybe some prayers are inexpressible by human speech. They are felt, maybe they even rise to conscious awareness, but they cannot be placed into the neat categories of common utterance; they don’t fit conventional verbiage. They are indescribable.
Or I think of the poem by Charles Dickens that includes the phrase, “impulses to wordless prayer.” Prescribed prayers and common patterns of liturgy can take us only so far, and perhaps in such transcendent, confirming, and transforming moments, we feel an impulse, yearning, or searching that find no support from finite vocabularies. There are depths of spiritual experience that stretch us beyond mortal capacity of language.
Some months ago I surprised myself by inexplicably beginning a curious private ritual that, to my utter amazement, I continue to this day. Our garage door opens to the East, and so each morning as I leave the house, I watch the darkness of the garage give way to the brightness of the new day’s sun as the door slowly rises overhead. During summer months, the sun shines from above the rooftops of neighbors, bathing me with warm bright light. During the winter, I see the reddish-yellow fingertips of dawn stretch tentatively against the darkness. In either case, I have begun to open both palms toward the new day and to extend my arms as if preparing to embrace an approaching friend. I follow no conscious liturgical pattern or spiritual formation practice, and I know of no Christian, pre-Christian, or Native-American form that I’ve patterned this after. I simply felt the need to do it one day, awestruck by the gift, beauty, and miracle of a new day. And then I did the next day, and the next.
In this repeated act, I express an impulse toward prayer in seasons when it’s easy and when I’m fully conscious of blessing as well as in periods when the causes and reasons of my symbolic act remain obscured by worry, despair, or preoccupation with my work.
Something in this simple movement prepares me, or reminds me, or prompts me to receptivity, an openness toward what the day holds, to the tasks set before me, and to the gracious gift of a new day given me by God. There are no words I speak. In fact, maybe I do this because I’m seeking to say something no words suffice to express, some unutterable mix of awe, gratitude, hope, desire, acceptance, and commitment.
“Impulses to wordless prayer.” What are the practices and prayers that prepare you to receive what God offers you in the new day? What are the patterns of intentionally opening yourself to God that make you more attentive to the sightings of God? How do you rediscover grace, the gift-like initiative of God’s love, in each morning?
Yours in Christ,