I hope you don’t find this poem excessive, in the way of making prayer into a monumental event or an effort of the mind that is beyond us common folk. Prayer is a thing we do need to practice if we are to learn it. We can’t grasp it, but we can do it, and understand somehow, something deeper than our minds. These lines challenge me to at least thank God for the simplest experience of prayer, maybe what Herbert calls “heaven in ordinary,” even if I am incapable myself of writing a line about this “kind of tune.” Read it slowly.
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
A podcast I listened to at the beginning of Lent encouraged me in my desire to spend more time reading the Psalms. It was Fr. Patrick Reardon’s homily in which he exhorted his own parishioners on three points, one of which was the need to pray more during Lent. He suggested the Psalms, because the use of them is a tradition that was without doubt handed down to us by the Apostles.
Fr. Patrick told the moving story about the book of Psalms that Natan Sharansky‘s wife gave him the night before he was put in a Soviet prison, and how much it meant to him during the many years he spent there. Sharansky’s story of it is on the site of the National Library of Israel, where I found this photo.
If you would like to listen to Fr. Patrick’s homily yourself it can be found here: “As Though it Were Our Last.”
“A God that should fail to hear, receive, attend to one single prayer, the feeblest or the worst, I cannot believe in; but a God that would grant every request of every man or every company of men, would be an evil God — that is no God, but a demon. That God should hang in the thought-atmosphere like a windmill, waiting till men enough should combine and send out prayer in sufficient force to turn his outspread arms, is an idea too absurd. God waits to be gracious not tempted. A man capable of proposing such a test, could have in his mind no worthy representative idea of a God, and might well disbelieve in any: it is better to disbelieve than believe in a God unworthy.”
-George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
Father Michael Gillis describes himself as a grumpy old man who struggles to stay near to God; he evidently succeeds enough to be able to report, in his latest blog post, “…I think God loves so much those who reach out to Him that he tricks me into saying something to help them.”
He shares portions of an email exchange with a young woman who is discouraged at always having to confess the same sins. Why isn’t God changing her? I found it encouraging: “Just” Waiting on God.