When Words Fail

When Words Fail

I’ve been trying to write for three months now.

But the words just wouldn’t come.

Plenty of things have popped into my head, whispering, “Write about this . . . or this,” but when I sat down and tried to write, I couldn’t string together more than a sentence or two.

For a while, I told myself that I was just “in transition,” “trying to adjust,” and as soon as things “settled down,” I would find my voice.

One of my baking adventures, Meringue Berry Sorbet Cake with Fresh Raspberry Sauce

So I gave myself permission to wait and see.  And I tried to be gentle with myself and with those around me, specifically my husband and adult daughter, who were both working from home. I did the things that used to bring me joy and peace. I experimented in the kitchen, cooking and baking new things.  I worked on my quilting, which is always a meditative act for me.  I prayed.

But then the words of prayer began to fail me.  Since the coronavirus pandemic began, my prayer list had grown with specific as well as more universal prayer requests, which I always included at the end of my morning prayer.  But as the list began to shrink (two people died from Covid, another from cancer), and the quarantining at home continued, I found it harder and harder to turn to God with praise, lament and beseeching.  And I had long since given up on the livestreamed Mass from my parish.  It was beautifully done, but I just couldn’t cope with the feeling that I was only a spectator, not a real participant.

I confessed to a dear friend that I was feeling “grouchy with God” and finding it hard to pray. She reminded me that “the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with load groans when we can’t bring ourselves to pray” (Romans 8:26, her translation).  That was comforting, a reminder to be gentle with my spiritual self. It has over the past few weeks allowed me to make tentative steps back into a routine of prayer and even a partial recommitment to “attending” the online celebration of the Liturgy of the Word (but I sign off as soon as we finish the Prayers of the Faithful–I cannot go any further).

But I realized just lately that I could never go back to writing for others, to writing this blog, if I did not confess that it is fear and anger that has been keeping me from writing–anger over all that has been happening in the world around me and fear that if I speak of my anger, I will face blowback and pain.

I’ve always been sensitive about how others think and feel. It’s been both a strength and weakness, allowing me to practice empathy but also serving as a protective shield, causing me to temper my words and actions to make them as acceptable as possible without diverging from my purpose. 

Too much to wear and carry all the time? Image by Bernhard Stärck from Pixabay

But the isolation of the pandemic, my sensitivity has lost its moorings. It is not only a shield now, it is full scale body armor, an overblown fear of saying the wrong things, of failing in a public way, of proving myself unworthy to speak at all.

But this kind of existence is too much to sustain.  And so today, I am writing to say that I will try writing again.  And I commit to writing about the topics that are pressing on my heart–the problems in our political world (the lies, the politicization of the pandemic, the challenges of systemic racism, the upcoming election) and our communities (church, state, neighborhood).  I know it will not be easy because my fear and my anger are still there.  But I have to try.  Hiding and waiting for perfect words to come is not a healthy option. Because the words are not failing me. They are there, waiting for me to overcome my fear, to own up to my anger.

Please feel free to leave me a comment on any issues or topics you would like me to consider as I go forward. And until then, be safe and gentle with yourself and others.


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