My prayers sometimes pause in the snatches of rainbow light that play upon the wall, the refrigerator, the floor, as the light refracts through a pink prism or a piece of stained glass in my window. I placed the glass pieces in the window to catch errant rays of light, to remind me of my daughter’s sweet hopes, the rainbow signatures that she wrote on her drawings before she could spell her name. Even though I placed these catchers and benders of light in my window, I am still surprised to see the patches of rainbow light in the afternoons as I put away groceries or empty the dishwasher. In these prayers provoked by light, I pray as the psalmist did, sometimes railing against sorrow with harsh words, sometimes thankful and hopeful, sometimes asking for guidance. I use words. But I use sighs too. And smiles.
My prayer is sometimes an audible sigh, and if others around me hear it, they might misinterpret it, not knowing the nuances of the language of sighs. Sighs too deep for words, too embedded in the heart to wrap around a crisp sound or letter, unable to gather the energy to form a word that could be interpreted more clearly by some careful listener. I believe God knows sighs.
My prayer is sometimes a photograph: the one of the caterpillar with the white horns all over its body that laid waste to the hot peppers on my husband’s plants (whew) or the photograph of the single figure standing lonely and silent on the dune silhouetted by the low orange sun on the last night I spent with my granddaughters on the huge sand hills behind their home.
Or the ginkgo leaves to which I am especially drawn in October, their gold fans suggesting peace and survival, old, old leaves from prehistoric times.
Last week, though, I had a two-hour running conversation with myself and God as he was an available listener that day when I was driving toward the coast of NC. I wanted to write my questions, my admonishments, my hopes, my thanks, my letting go, but I was driving, so I just said them aloud and hoped that maybe the wind from the open windows would carry them to places in hearts where they could be planted and nurtured and find their way on up to God.
When my three children were in preschool and elementary school and I traveled to three locations after my own work day to pick them up and bring them home, I had little time for my own prayers, so I spoke or sometimes shouted them as I drove to gather my children and take them home. I shouted above the buffeting wind sounds from the lowered car windows. I shouted as I drove alone in the car. Who would have thought that a relatively even-tempered, even quiet teacher of English and mother of three, whose goal was not to raise her voice in anger, could make a voice so loud as she drove along in the car? I wasn’t singing with the radio; I was bellowing my own song with its wishes, its hopes, its pleas for peace. Help, thanks, wow, Anne Lamott says are the three basic prayers. I think I covered all three shouting my way home in the car.
I have faith that my small place in the universe has a voice, a sigh, a cry, a laugh that is as valued as anyone else’s. I have faith that my muddled and muffled attempts at voicing hopes and dreams and anguish for hurts can reach God’s destination in the cosmos.
My prayers do not have to be intentional conversation. I remember the long and lofty prayers of church when I was a child with the thees and thous that elders of the church thought to be the only suitable language for talking with God. I remember my grandmother’s humming as she cut up peaches to can or kneaded her bread dough. Those were prayers too. When I drove home in the ragtop Jeep during a thunderstorm one night and all the babies were crying as tree limbs whipped against the canvas car top, my singing of “Shelter’d O’er in the Hollow of his Hand” was a shout, a hope, a prayer.
Today, on the first day of spring, I will be gathering my prayers as I watch for swaths of rainbow on the wall or floor of my kitchen, and I will be thinking of my daughter Elizabeth. I will be sending prayers for some of her friends who are now new mothers or who are about to be, for all the parents who miss their children who have died or who are in need of comfort, for Amazing Grace and Aunt Lucile who left us recently and are surely enjoying sister time from their new place, for all my children and grandchildren too. Maybe as I drive to appointments and errands, I will add a little shout from my car window. And I might sigh AND smile as I see the arms of the yellow bells, the forsythia, reaching up toward the sky, uplifted to enfold all those who need comfort today.
The prompt given at a retreat in 2007 was to write about prayer, write about spirituality as a response to Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem “Psalm.” Some additions are from today, the first day of spring in 2013. You can read Kestenbaum’s poem at this link from Writer’s Almanac.