“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”

Ana, The Book of Longings

In The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Ana writes this prayer of longing on the incantation bowl her aunt Yaltha has gifted her. “Do you know what an incantation bowl is?” Yaltha asked. “In Alexandria we women pray with them. We write our most secret prayer inside them…Every day we sign the prayer. As we do, we turn the bowl in slow circles and the words wriggle to life and spin off toward heaven.”

Ana’s prayer inspired me to create a SoulCollage® card that echoes the longing of Ana’s heart and my own. The images came first, the words later as I listened with the “ear of my heart” to my own longings. “I am one who…” is a prompt to begin speaking from the heart of the images.

Card name: A prayer of longing

I am one who has a longing. I am the child longing to be seen and heard, to become more of who I am and all who I am meant to be.

I am the woman longing for peace, for boldness, to be more of who I am and all who I am meant to be. I am one who has been nourished by soul friends, anam caras, wise women.  I am one who is sustained by women (and men) who stand their ground, who sit vigil, who encourage, who light the path, who have shown me the way through the forest.

I am one who listens to the Divine within, the voice of Sophia, with a faith ignited and nurtured by women who have gone before and who walk alongside me.

I am the crone longing to return the love and nurturing to those younger than me. May my words and presence be a blessing.

I am trinity of child, woman, and crone; past, present, and future; innocent, rebel and wise. Three in one—Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit, hear my prayer of longing.

Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight—may I be the voice of peace, light, and hope for those now and not yet born.

IAOW © Jodi Gehr

“All my life, longings lived inside me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night. That my husband bent his heart to mine on our thin straw mat and listened was the kindness I most loved in him. What he heard was my life begging to be born.”

Ana, The Book of Longings

Ana’s prayer of longing is to have a voice, to be heard and truly listened to. Ana lives during the time of Jesus when women’s stories were not valued or heard, often intentionally silenced and oppressed. Like Ana, our longing is for our authentic self to be seen and heard. When we are listened to, we know that we are loved.

Listening is an important theme in The Book of Longings. St. Benedict thought it was so important to listen, that it is the first word in the Rule. “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” John McQuiston II in “Always We Begin Again, The Benedictine Way of Living” paraphrases, “Listen with the heart and mind.” These instructions, to listen to God, extends to the many ways God may speak to us—through our daily circumstances, unique situations, the people in our lives, and in our heart and mind through the voice of truth within us.

Ana listens to her own “holy of holies,” that voice of God within her. “A man’s holy of holies contains God’s laws, but inside a woman’s there are only longings…Write what’s inside here, inside your holy of holies.”

Ana lives into her longings as prayer itself. What God has planted in her is her living prayer—to write. She cannot stop herself from writing, from the longing to tell her own story and the stories of women who were silenced. She must give them a voice. Telling our story and being heard confirms our value as being created in the image of God.

Ana longs to support her friend, Tabitha after she is raped. “Fury welled in me until I could no longer keep myself small.” Ana must be with Tabitha to offer comfort through her presence. She sings her a familiar lullaby, holds her, and sits with her. Tabitha has been silenced (literally), but Ana witnesses her pain. Not feeling heard can be the greatest suffering. Later Ana tells her, “I think every pain in this world wants to be witnessed, Tabitha. That’s why you shouted your rape on the street and it’s why I wrote it down.”

Yaltha, Ana’s aunt, lets Ana speak her truth without shaming or judgement. Wise women, mentors, spiritual guides, and anam caras, like Yaltha, have their own story to share. They, too, have had a longing to be heard, to be accepted for who they are. This compassion creates the space for listening to others—an acceptance of our truth, a witness of wounds carried too long, a presence of healing and hope—a relationship centered in listening and honoring the largeness in each other.

Ana writes about Yaltha’s deepest wound. After reading, Jesus tells Ana, “Your story caused your aunt’s suffering to lift off the papyrus and enter inside me. I felt her suffering as my own and she was made new to me.” When we truly listen to another and their story, we enter their suffering, we become one with them. We are filled with compassion.

At the root of this longing is to be heard and to be accompanied, to hear others, to accompany them in their suffering, to give them a voice. Writing our own story can be a release of suffering as well. We tell our stories so that others know they are not alone. We listen to another’s story so that they know they are not alone. We offer our presence to another in their suffering, as Ana did for Jesus walking to Calvary “I’m here, Beloved. I’m walking behind you. Were we women the only ones with hearts large enough to hold such anguish?” Ana, and the other women, walk with Jesus in his suffering. With humility and in compassion, we are called to do the same.

Creative Ways to Pray

-Write a prayer of longing that could be inscribed into an incantation bowl.

-Create a SoulCollage® card that captures your longings.

-Consider the anam caras and wise women that have touched your life. Write a prayer of gratitude naming the gifts you have received from your friendship or create a SoulCollage® card to honor them.

“With The Book of Longings, I wanted to write a story that encouraged us to follow our longings and bring forth the largeness inside ourselves. I wanted to portray how much women’s voices and stories matter.”

Sue Monk Kidd

Other resources:

The Book of Longing Book Club Kit—UNBELIEVABLE resource with discussion questions and commentary.

The Book of Longing Book Club Discussions with Sue Monk Kidd