If you are out on lake ice in the silence of night you will sometimes hear the ice sheering against itself. This is the sound of the ever-expanding icefield meeting the barrier which is the shore. And if we are imagining glacial ice, the sound we are hearing is a voice of power which does not recognize the shoreʼs constraint. Glacial ice shifts entire landscapes.
There are likewise powerful voices and forces within the silences of our interior life. Our hunger for enlightenment, like lake ice or the glacier, is not constrained by the shoreline of our mortality. We yearn limitlessly against the press of time.
In her astonishing book, The Murmuring Deep, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg contemplates these interior voices and forces. From Psalm 48:2 she quotes: “Deep calls unto deep.” She adds, “The Hebrew word that is rendered by the English “deep’’ is tehom—incomparably richer in association. This tehom [is] unfathomable, void, dense with watery voices …”
If you are a praying person, you have learned that your interior life is “dense with watery voices”. Thoughts which will not reveal their origin, memories which come unbidden, ‘to do” lists assuming a disproportionate authority, unnamed hungers, and fears threaten to drown out our prayer. At particular times, these contingent realities will defeat our best intentions and will, in fact, overcome the elemental urgency of our desire. The elemental intention, however, will always return.
The intention I am speaking of is your desire for God. This desire will always return because your desire for God is an echo of God’s desire. Nothing can or ever will defeat God’s desire for you.
If you are brave enough, and it does take some courage, to open the Anglican Breviary you will easily find The Prayer of St. Gertrude, page 1, (Yes, Page 1! I told you it was easy to find!):
“O Lord, in union with that divine intention wherewith thou thyself didst render thy praises to God, I desire to offer this my Office of prayer unto thee.”
Don’t be put off by the ‘wherewith’ or the ‘didst render’ or the ‘unto thee’, or the word ‘Office’! ‘Office’ simply means “this act”—sort of. Read her prayer slowly.
St. Gertrude’s prayer gives voice to a startling desire and possibility: that our intention in prayer is birthed within the prayerful intention of Christ. With a mature, deeply vulnerable, child-like candour she seeks the marriage of mortal and Divine Intention.
Maybe we are overly concerned too often with the content and “quality” of our prayer. St. Gertrude shifts our gaze to our intention. Would the Risen Christ, who now lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:4), ever disparage your intention to pray? Would we ever disparage a child’s intention to pray?
Despite our culture’s general distrust of “intention”, Gertrude’s prayer, surprisingly and precisely, names the bedrock of our spiritual life. The bedrock of your spiritual life is your intention to pray in union with the intention of Jesus. St. Gertrude’s longed for marriage of her intention to the intention of Jesus takes us by surprise: the deep, soul-shaping voices that groan and whisper and sheer within us are giving voice to our own intention to live in union with the Risen Christ. Like the lake ice or the glacier, we will never bow to the limits of the shore.