I think I was in high school when I learned how lightning actually works. Before that, I assumed that the static charge built up in the clouds, and then for some inexplicable reason decided to streak down to the earth to ground itself – the same way static charge usually found its way to the ground through me when I pulled my bed sheets out of the dryer. As it turned out, I was halfway to the truth.
Lightning is a meeting of two opposite charges. If you watch high-speed camera footage of lightning, you will see that lightning also travels upwards from the earth to meet its opposite charge in the middle. The sheer amount of potential energy built up between the two poles results in a blinding streak of light.
Prayer works like this. Not only does God come down to meet us in prayer, but He also lifts us up as he rises toward Himself in the Holy Spirit. I think this is what St. Paul might have meant by what he said in his letter to the Romans: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes…” (Romans 8:26, NAB).
We aren’t sending up words to an unmoving God. Prayer is a powerful meeting between the human and the Divine. We rise up on the current of God’s love. Knowing this, it no longer matters if we are too exhausted to pray coherently, or if we’re too overcome with emotion to be able to find the words, or if we’re hurting so much all we can do is groan in pain. Our desire to reach upwards creates the charge. The Holy Spirit provides the flash.