Prayer without words (when there’s nothing to say)

At work this weekend, I was replacing empty votive candles in the church when a couple women came to light a candle. They didn’t understand how to use the orange-wood lighting stick, so I showed them. “And then you say a prayer, right?” asked one of the women.

“Yes,” I said, “Or lighting the candle can be your prayer. Prayer can take many forms — a song, a gesture, even silence.”

When I don’t have the words, I often simply cross myself, or make the sign of the Cross on a photograph (perhaps on my computer screen) of a person I want to pray for. Sometimes, after receiving Communion, for example, my mind may be wandering and I can’t focus enough to pray any words worth addressing to God (although really, God is pleased to accept whatever words we offer). I simply kneel in silence and let my posture be my prayer. Many people have similar practices, such as bowing, fingering prayer beads, genuflecting, yoga, taking a walk in nature, or sitting quietly with open hands. Remember that we are always all in God’s presence and in the embrace of God’s love.

Tonight, I suspect many people are struggling to find the words they want to pray. Written or memorized prayers, such as the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer) can be especially helpful. But whatever you are honestly feeling is a great start, even if no words are involved.

To close, I would like to offer this beloved prayer from the BCP (the link will take you to the full text of the service of Evening Prayer). You’ve probably seen this posted in many places tonight.

For the injured, wounded, grieving, and aid workers in Boston tonight, we pray:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, orweep this night, and give your angels charge over those whosleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary,blessthe dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield thejoyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.



(Note on the poem: Some may know this one as “In-Between Rite.” I just tried to find which book it was in, and it turns out it’s not in any of them…so this is its first publication, it seems. So I should add this bit that’s true of all my writing here: ©Elaine Elizabeth Belz.)

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