Prayer: A Sigh

Reflections from Dr. Howell

There is so much to love and savor about the life of Martin Luther – but then there are the embarrassments: his ferocious invective against Catholics, and his demeaning of the Jews are just plain embarrassing.

Luther was a gregarious guy who loved company, food, beer, music and conversation.  He always had many guests in his house – and some of his regulars jotted down quirky, profound and humorous things he said.  His Table Talk includes witticisms like “I would have died if I’d been on Noah’s ark. It was dark, three times the size of my house, and full of animals.”  Having married and had 6 children in rapid succession, he said, “Christ said we must become like little children. Dear God, this is too much.  Must we become such idiots?” Other witticisms: “God can ride the l ame horse, and carve rotten wood,” and “I would rather be governed by a wise Turk than a foolish German.”  And then insults: “You are a toad eater,” and “You are as versed in Scripture as a pig playing a harp.”

He would speak of prayer – after having led everyone in prayer.  Here’s a clever one: “Pray, and let God worry.”  And then this one:  “Prayers of upright Christians are without ceasing, although they pray not always with their mouth, yet their hearts do pray continually, sleeping and waking.  For the sigh of a true Christian is a prayer.”

The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  This seems impossible… and yet Luther helps us find a way.  Luther thought about God all the time – including when he was at dinner, drinking beer, playing with his children.  God, and God’s ways, can be on our minds constantly – and God could enter into way more conversations as God did for Luther.

The “sighs” are interesting.  In Romans 8, Paul speaks of “inward groaning” – and then adds “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  Any time you are exasperated, sad, exhausted, or anxious, whether you think to pray or not, you are praying, and God is listening carefully, and caring, and beginning to help.

I find much hope in Frederick Buechner’s words: “Everybody prays whether he thinks of it as praying or not.  The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or bad. The ah-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you, the stammer of pain at somebody else’s pain, the stammer of joy at somebody else’s joy.  Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life.  These are all prayers in their way.  These are spoken not just to yourself but to something more familiar than yourself…”

The only way forward in prayer is to pray more… but also to realize your whole life can be in conversation with God – and already is on God’s side.

Lord, thank you for listening to my unwitting prayers.  Thank you for praying in me and despite me.  Take my worries, and my sighs – and those of others.