This morning I woke in the northwoods of Idaho, at the home of my goddaughter Rosemary and her husband. I sat on their deck and watched the green aspen leaves as they quietly fluttered and twirled against patches of blue sky background above.
Unfamiliar birds squawked and twittered in the neighborhood, glorifying God. And I found this prayer in my prayer book, that asks God to teach us to use our voices to pray as well. The prayer itself is good instruction.
“My Lord, I know not what to ask of thee. Thou alone knowest my need. Thou lovest me more than I know to love Thee. Father, I am thy servant: grant me all I dare not ask. I ask neither for a cross nor for comfort; I simply stand in thy presence. My heart is open to thee. Thou seest my needs, of which I myself am unaware. Look upon me and act toward me in accordance with thy mercy: smite and heal, cast down and raise up. In thy presence I stand, reverent and silent before thy holy will and thy judgments, to which I cannot attain. To thee I offer myself in sacrifice. I commend myself to thee. I have no desire except to fulfill thy will. Teach me to pray. Do thou thyself pray within me. Amen.”
-St. Philaret of Moscow
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