A child is sick. It is the middle of the night, and she has only half awoken in a sweaty fever. Fantastic images swoop and gibber in her bedroom. She begins to rock her head left and right, and softly the child moans.
Pay attention to her moaning. It forms no words, no articulate communication. Yet the whole of her distress drives the note of her moaning through a sliding scale higher and higher.
She’s trembling. The hair sticks to her forehead.
She says, “Ma—” Not yet a whole word.
It doesn’t matter. Immediately upon the sounding of that syllable, the hall light glows, and the bedroom door opens ushering gentle light into the baby’s darkness, scattering the furies of her dreaming, granting the child a kind and solid presence for her eyes to see: for framed in the light of the doorway is the beautiful shape of her mother.
Swiftly, then, the woman enters, strokes the flesh of her baby, leaves and returns with cool moist cloths, with a little cracker and much juice and healing hands and companionship the whole night through.
So, then: a full communication was accomplished between the baby’s waking and her sleeping again.
Who initiated it? Why, the child.
But who empowered it? Not the child. She was sick and groaning, that’s all. She scarcely knew her trouble; she couldn’t put words to the noise she made; the noise was neither a question nor a calling; it was diffuse and undirected, the spontaneous response to hurting.
Nevertheless, it was heard by another! More than that, it was interpreted, which is what listening is. And immediately with understanding came the active response of a mother whose love is nearly omniscient, whose heart is almost omnipresent.
So who shaped a cry into communication? Who gave it direction and power, that it might be dialogue after all? Of course: the baby’s mother.
It is the same between us and God.
However inarticulate, however ignorant or misdirected our prayer may be, however weak in every respect (weak, mind you, even in our ability to believe that it will be heard!) it is the listening of the Lord God which makes our mumble a prayer.