By Paul Knudtson
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[a] with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,[b] who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit[c] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[d] Romans 8:26-27
For years I have listened almost every day to the chants of Cistercian monks (“Chant: Music for the Soul”). Since prayer expresses the deepest longings, sorrows, and joys of the heart, it is not surprising that there should be a connection between music and prayer. We’ve also been listening to a choral music playlist which also helps one pray (Apple music). Music speaks to our souls, apart from the words.
Elaine and I have been enjoying a group called “The Sons of Korah” (who sing the psalms). I am used to reading a psalm or two every day and find it nice to hear them sung as well. The psalms, as well as music/singing, help me to pray. Our son-in-law preached a sermon on the importance of singing as a spiritual discipline in remaining in Jesus. Sometimes at night, when words elude us and the “terror of the night” enshrouds our hearts, music alone can soothe.
I just ordered a book by Henri Nouwen (“The Beauty of the Lord”) about icons and prayer. This has not been part of my prayer life coming from my Lutheran tradition, but I have long felt that I have underappreciated beauty as a way to God.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed artists in the Sistine Chapel in November 2009, linking beauty, truth and God through transcendence. As explained by Michael Schrauzer in “Toward the Transcendent”:
“Beauty and truth are inseparable because they both come from the same divine source, God, and so can lead back to Him. Because God is One, they are in some sense interchangeable, as Keats instinctively understood.
Along with goodness, beauty and truth are aspects of God’s perfect Being, which means that He is not just their author, or that He is “beautiful” or “truthful” in the way created things are more or less full of beauty or truth, but that God is Beauty itself and Truth itself.
In short, every encounter with the beautiful, the true or the good here on earth is really an encounter with a facet of God, a reminder of His original beauty and truth.” https://www.osv.com/TheChurch/Article/TabId/563/ArtMID/13751/ArticleID/9945/Toward-the-Transcendent.aspx
It seems to me that most of North American public culture does not address the depths of human experience–it is often superficial and preoccupied with what is trivial. But there is a lot going on within us; we are like a deep well. Something needs to address those depths, most of which we may feel but not be able to put into words.
Beauty speaks to our heart, much like music, “with sighs too deep for groaning”.