Let’s think about those times when you enter those human spaces where, in Paul’s thought, the “sighs [are] too deep for words.”
Roy, let’s name him, was presenting his pastoral challenge to his circle of clergy friends. On a snowy day in February, just as he was settling in for sermon preparation, the word came that Bill Lowery, friend and community leader, had suddenly died from a massive heart attack. Roy rushes to the hospital to be present to the shocked family who look to him for words. Two months later, the heart broken widow commits suicide. Again Roy rushes to the place of death to be present to the surviving sons who look to him for words.
In both situations, Roy spoke of having no “right” words, feeling inadequate, uncomfortably vulnerable, standing, it seemed, naked before a Mystery “too deep for words.” Priding himself as a professional crafter of words, he was lost for words.
You can imagine the responses from his colleagues: “But Roy, you were authentic, not mouthing pious platitudes that discount the anguish and deny the mystery” . . .”You were present with touch and feeling” . . .”You must have invited trust because the sons later wanted time and conversation with you.”
I drove away from this conversation thinking about the courage it took for Roy to show up in such a surreal place, a space extraordinary, corded off from the ordinary, a timeless moment oblivious to the clock on the wall.
I remember—as I suspect you are remembering—the dread in driving to the hospital or home knowing you will be walking into a “sighing too deep for words.” You anticipate expectations you cannot meet. You assume eruptions of feeling you cannot predict. Yes, there will be words, but they must be few and carefully parsed.
But . . . you go.
Physicians go into these holy places with a stethoscope and other tangibles. The nurses, funeral director, and friends show up with things to do. You don’t have much to do. You don’t have much to say. But, and this may be the point, you have much to be.
Being present, representing a “with us” Presence, may be the wordless Word declared that really matters and comforts.
In retrospect, Roy might turn to Paul’s assurance that Spirit is in the “sighing.” “Likewise 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)
But let’s not smooth over Roy’s angst: his felt weakness, inadequacy, left to share the sighs too deep for words. I want to honor his courage, and yours, to show up, offering Presence within so much not-knowing.