Words are a double edged sword. Sometimes, oftentimes in prayer, I’m finding them to be both inadequate (not enough) and also surplus to requirement.
Especially in the light of the unimaginable terror and shocking deaths brought about by a suicide bomb attack in Manchester this week.
Ironically, what attacks like this generate is words. Words of condemnation from our politicians (we want these, and we want them quick); words of sympathy from horrified consumers of the media. If it weren’t for words, we wouldn’t even know such an event had taken place, unless, God forbid, we were caught up in it ourselves.
And often, perhaps increasingly, words from the churches and other faith groups. Prayers have already been written for the Manchester bombing; you can find them with a short Google search. Bishops and Archbishops have spoken. They have rightly said that we are angry at such an horrific outburst of evil. That we have to use our anger as a force for good. That we mourn; that we stand together.
And other people have perhaps felt that these are merely platitudes. It is so hard to find the right words. True grief, true anger, true outrage, is wordless. ‘There are no words…’ would be the perfect Tweet on the subject. Literally.
And I do find myself feeling wordless in prayer today. Although this local church will be open for prayer, with prayer cards situated carefully by the door, containing thoughtfully chosen words, most people will have no words. And so written and said prayers will seem not enough. Or perhaps, which is worse, too much.
Sometimes, words of supposed comfort, of calming, of soothing, will simply be screamed away. And rightly so. Who really knows how to offer anything except presence to those who rage and grieve wordlessly? Although we all stand together, etc. only a few will truly mourn as deeply and for as long as anyone can never imagine.
The bible contains many shocking things; certainly parts of it merit an 18 Certification. But at least there’s a sense of reality. No platitudes within the Psalms – only gut wrenching responses to unspeakable things happening and a constant asking of God ‘where were you?’ ‘where are you?’ How long, O Lord?’
And echoing through both Testaments, a sound that is wordless yet powerful: women weeping. Women weep because they cannot conceive; Rachel an example, or because the children they did conceive and bear have been cruelly snatched from them.
Rachel continues as a type from Old to New Testament: ‘Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’ (Jeremiah 31:15) is a response both to human loss of life during the Exile, and to the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod, which the young Jesus just escapes as his parents flee with him to Egypt. Other young children are not so lucky.
Jeremiah was ‘the weeping prophet’. And of course, Jesus wept (John 11:35). In the aftermath of a terrorist attack at the heart of a venue full of young people celebrating life and music, words are either not enough, or too much.
Weeping may be the only response.