Some of the finest wordsmithing down the ages has come in prayers.
Homer began each of his epics with an invocation to a Muse, one of the daughters of Zeus, asking for guidance and the talent needed to tell his tales.
And the Old Testament Psalms have been the go-to source of comfort and inspiration for countless millions who have identified with the sweeping range of needs and emotions given voice therein, from complete awe to “A little help please” to “Where are you?”
Adherents of any creed – or, in fact, of no creed whatsoever – can find beauty in the flowing cadence of the Psalms. Any translation will deliver that beauty, but when I need a Psalm (some days it’s akin to reaching for an aspirin tablet) I opt for the majestic language of the King James Version. Hemingway read the King James Old Testament regularly, not with any religious intent but hoping that distinct narrative voice would find its way into his own writing.
What I find so fascinating about prayers is that they can be carefully crafted works of precisely metered phrasing, like John Henry Newman’s famous supplication that begins with “O Lord, support us all the day long…” and ends with “in Your mercy grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last.” Or they can be as simple as a couple of words, requiring not much more than a breath. 13th century German theologian Meister Eckhart proved that when he provided perhaps my favorite quote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
So, prayers can be great literature. But for legions of us they are considerably more than that. To those of us who are confident they are received, the offering of prayers is just about the most important business we can be about.
And, being unquestionably imperfect (none of you need to weigh in on this) – some days more so than others – I go about it in any number of moods and for any number of reasons. Depending on circumstances, my disposition ranges regularly from elation all the way to anger and doubt. Sometimes I just feel the need to check in. To make sure the line is still open.
A few years ago I started working some of my personal invocations into what I prefer to call conversations; few theologians would call them prayers and certainly no poet would call them poems. When I sent a bunch of them to Jonathan Galassi, the head honcho at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the esteemed New York outfit that published my first book, he wrote back that he found them beautiful, but didn’t quite know what FSG could do with them. Then I sent them to several publishers of religious books, all of whom professed to like them but were fearful that one faith or denomination or another would find them outside the precise boundaries of their particular theology.
Finally, at the tenacious insistence of my wife Karen, I’ve decided to post some of these pieces on a separate page in this blog. If you have no interest in such doings please don’t feel obligated to even take a peek.
The page is titled Conversations and can be reached in the menu bar very soon. You should know that I’ll be posting most of the ones I did years ago, and once that bin is empty the postings will, since I write them sporadically, slow down considerably.
No attempt will be made to provide any sort of a framework, or to herd these things into categories, like song titles in hymnals. I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up each morning, look at the calendar, and decide to be joyful or thankful or sacrificial. I take each morning as it presents itself, and fashion my conversation accordingly.
I attempted to wordsmith each of these nicely, to have tinkered and polished sufficiently to make them understandable and pleasant. But please don’t read too much into that. One editor (in his rejection letter) even suggested that I title the collection Invocations to Amuse.
He missed the point.
I want these pieces to be exactly what they are: heartfelt communications with the one who creates, saves, and sustains me day by day, minute by minute. So I don’t offer these as light, witty reading.
Neither do I offer them as templates for whatever conversations you currently have going or intend to strike up. But if these prove to be at all helpful on your journey, I am glad.
I’ll share the first, and the shortest, one here. I actually send this one up every morning, as not only a request but as sort of a mantra to keep me in line.
In a world full of people who misbehave,
Please help me, this day, to