I am not much of an artist. In fact, when it comes to art, I can’t even draw a conclusion all that well! Perhaps the most revealing aspect of my artistic skills is that my daughter Rachel could draw and paint better than I when she was in kindergarten! Some people are born to paint, I struggle to paint a barn! But I am a visual thinker… I love the power of imagery, and can be found in reflection of the pictures and images around me. Though much of my life is spent in the reading and writing of words, I realise the limitation of words in so many ways: the deepest expressions of the soul are not found in words so much as feelings, images, ideas, instincts: half-formed and seminal responses waiting to be teased out.
Psychologists tell us that only 10% of our communication is in the actual words we use. The majority of the message is composed in the inflections of our voice, our posture and stance, and in the setting in which we choose to communicate, as well as the medium. (A new social phenomenon – breaking up a relationship via SMS – tells a lot about ourselves).
So what does this mean for our spirituality? The christian faith is based on relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Much emphasis is placed on the Bible as a source for understanding this relationship, with the end result that the real test is usually understood in terms of the words we use. In its most extreme form, a person’s spirituality and authenticity as a christian is determined by the particular words they use to express their prayers and define their understanding of God. People through history have lost their lives, been cast out of their communities, and demonized for the words they chose, or rejected, to express their understanding of what it means to be a christian. Far too much energy has been wasted, and far too much destruction has resulted from this over-emphasis on words.
When we come to prayer, what does this mean? Are we only to pray by speaking? Do answers to prayer only come through words? Clearly not. There are times when I struggle to give words to my heart’s burden in prayer. Some times I am not even sure what I am asking God for as I turn to pray. What does this mean for prayer? As with any love relationship, words are not always necessary. We are able bring the entire range of human creativity and expression to our prayer: through art, dance, stillness, emotion, symbolism.
Prayer is the outpouring of our soul in relationship with God, and the yearning to be united with him in Spirit and purpose. Limit it to words? We might as well destroy it!
May 16, 2004