Saturday, February 20, 2016

With groans from within


Somewhere in my memory bank is a statement by an Orthodox teacher that we in the West have an imbalanced view of God: that we so emphasize the person of Jesus (the Son within the Trinity) that our sense of the Spirit (person #3) is minimal at best. Consequently, we downplay the role of of the Spirit or relegate the Spirit to a phenomenon of the Pentecostal movement. Today's prayer text reminds me of this. This passage from Romans has always been a bit problematic for me. I have often simply skipped over it paying it little heed, but today's focus in prayer does not allow me to do so.

"The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” What does this mean? I don't think that it is about speaking in tongues as some would argue, since that is a gift given only to a few. I think that this passage has a more universal application, that is, to all believers and so must mean something more.

When do I "groan"? Usually it is when I am in some sort of pain, or when I am "bone tired", or when I am at a total loss for words. Usually at these times, there is a deep emotional component to it -- more often than not, feeling that I am at my wits end and have no strength. I cannot rely on my own resources any more. Is this when the Spirit's groans take over? When I have finally exhausted my own resources and cannot think of another thing to say or do in my relationship with God?

If this is the case, why do I have to wait so long . . . why do I insist on "doing it all my own" until I can't "do" anymore??? Looking back at my life, I have found this to be so in my prayer. Oh, I pray and do all that the forms require and even a bit more but upon examination, I am beginning to realize that it is almost always on my terms and with my own "strength" whether that be intellectual, emotional, or even physical. Only when one or another (or all) these "strengths" fail am I driven to pray in the manner I hear described in the gospel as when Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit.

There it is again . . .  that pesky Spirit . . . driving even Jesus.

When I have experienced this great sense of weakness is when I finally "cry out" (a sort of groaning, I suppose). On these occasions, I have felt totally vulnerable, sometimes driven to tears, not just a tear or two, but deep wails. On these occasions, I have often questioned my own worth, wondered what was "wrong" with me, why I didn't seem to deserve "a break". Perhaps these times are the occasions of weakness of which have St. Paul speaks here. The wails are the sighs "too deep for words" and the questions are the beginning of real prayer - a discovery that only in God can I find the true meaning of my experience, my life.

I pray for the grace of reaching this point without the need to be at wits end to experience it.

-- Romans 8:26-27

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