I decided to post the prayer below, and not an hour later I finally found the poem. I say finally, because I had moved the small volume in which the poem is found, from the bookshelf in one room, to the top of a trunk in another, to a dresser and then a table, over the course of several months, in an absentminded effort to get it downstairs. One morning I managed to carry it down, and another day I followed through on my longstanding desire to open it.
To me the prayer and the poem share the same hope and desire. Doubtless when we get to know our true selves, we will find that we all share this. Richard Wilbur has said that he began writing poems in earnest while a soldier in the Second World War: “One does not use poetry for its major purposes, as a means to organize oneself and the world, until one’s world somehow gets out of hand.”
The older I get, and considering all the ways that my inner and outer worlds have required strong “organizing” by means of writing, the more I might wish I were in the habit of writing poetry. But writing anything and having it come out right is hard enough, at the same time it becomes more necessary.
Wilbur’s wife died when they had been married 65 years. Earlier, after only 50 years of marriage, he had said: “My wife was the first person it occurred to me to marry, and I was really quite stunned that she felt the same about me. I know that I would be capable of great disorder and emotional confusion if I were out of my wife’s orbit; she really has greatly steadied me.” In this poem he wrote after her death I think it’s significant that he is conscious of setting out for the place, not merely the person whose vision urges him on.
Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.
What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.
Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.
The prayer that inspired this post to begin with is in a book newly published by St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press. It contains many familiar prayers from previous Orthodox prayer books, but also some that aren’t as well known, and a few specially conceived for modern times, such as a prayer “Before Using the Internet,” and a “Prayer Against Insomnia.” One section is titled “The Glorious Majesty of the Lord.” Yes!
I hope to share a few other selections from this collection of Orthodox Christian Prayers, which is beautiful in its binding and formatting as well as its content, but for the first one, it seems fitting that is attributed to the patron saint of the oldest Orthodox monastery in America; their publishing arm gave us this book. It is in a section titled “Prayers for Spiritual Struggle.”
About a month ago ? — hard to say, time is strange right now — when I began to struggle myself with what you might call tormenting thoughts, driven by the social and economic upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, I also opened this prayer book for the first time, and came upon this entry. In the words of Richard Wilbur, it speedily helped me to organize myself and my relationship to this world. It mentions the feast of Christ’s Ascension, so I waited to publish it now, 40 days after Pascha, when we are remembering that event.
A PRAYER to INHERIT HEAVEN
by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
With my flesh I worship thine Ascension into heaven, and I pray to thee, my Lord, raise my mind from what is earthly to that which is on high, strengthen my infirmity, and make up for what is lacking and small in me, leading me heavenward unto a good and saving end, unto thee who art in heaven, which is our true home, our fatherland, inheritance, property, wealth, honor, glory, comfort, joy, and eternal blessedness. Amen.
When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.
–Hymn for the Feast of Ascension