“Sighs Too Deep for Words”

 “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  
–Romans 8:26

Yesterday, the Ohio Northern University community lost one of its members, a student who took his own life.  It’s always a tragedy when a young person dies, but it is so much sadder when it happens in such a manner.  Our entire community continues to mourn, even as we move on with the daily business of educating a generation of young leaders for the world. 

Last night when I got home, I of course ran to my two children’s bedrooms and hugged and kissed them both before they went to sleep.  I found myself holding on to each of them just a little tighter, too, as I recalled the events of the day, and the fragility of human life.  After I made sure that Daniel and Rebecca were both tucked in for the night, I went to the living room and sat down with our two dogs, Mack and Cheese, and found myself opening up with a flood of tears.  While I didn’t know the student who died personally, I know and love so many students on this campus, and I saw their pain as they gathered last night in the Chapel for a time of prayer and sharing.  It touched me to the core to see their outpouring of grief and love for one another, and for their lost friend.  After my tears, which I surmise were as much from exhaustion as anything else, I found myself sighing throughout the rest of the evening.  I caught myself after about an hour of this, and wondered, “What am I doing, sighing like this?”  And it was then that I remembered this scripture from Paul’s letter to Rome, about “sighs too deep for words.”  In the passage, Paul reminds us that the Spirit prays with us, and sometimes even for us, when we do not have the words to express our sadness, grief, or even great joy.  And I realized that this is exactly what was happening to me last night–the Spirit was praying through and in my sighs in a way that could not adequately be expressed through words.  Words, even those of comfort like I brought to the gathering last night, are so inadequate, so flimsy, in the light of tremendous grief.  Sometimes, all we can do is sit, and cry, and sigh with one another, knowing that God hears our cries, feels our pain, and knows our prayers–even the wordless ones. 

Over the next few days, weeks, and months, there will be many more tears, many more sighs.  God will hear every one of them, and the Spirit will pray through them, as we process this tragedy, and as we begin to find a way to move forward.  

If you find yourself being in despair, or feeling lonely, or wanting to hurt yourself, please know that there are people who can help you, if only by sitting and sighing with you today.  Please, reach out and ask them to be with you.  No one should ever feel alone.  May God bless you all.

Blessings,
David

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Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week,  as I was getting ready for our bi-weekly staff spiritual formation meeting, I was stumped.  I didn’t have any great (or even decent) ideas about what to do with the staff that week.  So, I turned to one of my favorite sources for spiritual inspiration, Thomas Merton.  I picked up my copy of New Seeds of Contemplation, and turned to a page that I had highlighted last summer, when I was on retreat at Gethsemani.  The passage reads:

For it is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain.  It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting.  It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat:  but it is God Who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood.  His love spreads the shade of the sycamore over my head and sends the water boy along the edge of the field with a bucket from the spring, while the laborers are resting, and the mules stand under the tree.

In this beautiful imagery, Merton captured the essence of what it means to depend on God very deeply in all things.  In the cold, blowing winter winds (like we’re experiencing right now), and in the hot and humid days of summer and early autumn, God can be found.  Though we despair in the midst of this bitter cold weather, we are reminded by Merton that it is God’s love that provides the winter for us.  Winter is, after all, a time when the earth, buried under the snow and ice, rests and prepares itself for the growing seasons of spring and summer.

This week, we had another cancellation at the university–everything, except for essential services, was closed.  On Thursday, when everyone returned to work and classes, I noticed that some people looked very stressed out–another day of work lost!–while others looked refreshed, rested even, because they had taken the day off not as a moment for stress, but as an unanticipated rest.  Like Merton’s take on the presence of God in the heat and cold alike, some people here on campus chose to see the “snow day” as a chance to refresh and reconnect before getting out into the busyness of the world again.  In the midst of this crummy weather, it’s important for all of us to take such moments of rest.  Recognize that you can’t keep up the same pace in the winter as you did in the summer.  There’s no way we can pack our days as full with activity, when it takes twice as long to get from one activity to another.  Slow down.  Don’t worry, the world won’t stop spinning on its axis if you suddenly stop working and moving around so much.  Sit down by a cozy warm fire, or on the couch with your favorite fuzzy critter.  Sip a hot cup of tea slowly, savoring the moment and the taste of energy re-entering your body.  Let your mind wander a bit, and don’t worry so much about being productive.  Winter is a time for all of us to slow down and recognize that we are, after all, very human, and that we, like the earth, need to rest and rejuvenate every once in a while.

May these winter days be for you an opportunity to do just that.

Blessings and Peace,

David