Poetry Friday: On Prayer

I was thinking about Lent a few days ago and wondering what spiritual book I might read this Lent, when a thought hit me:

I don’t want you to read something. I want you to pray. 

Whether that thought came from me or God, I don’t know. But I couldn’t shake it off.

My mind has lots of images of prayer: bodies kneeling at the altar, weeping, as the hymn Just As I Am plays over and over on the organ. The loud booming voice of my father praying at the end of a sermon.  All night prayer vigil in a little Sunday School room at my Thai church. More recently, a whispered “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me” in front of a lit candle, two fingers lingering on a prayer rope, the piercing-yet-comforting eyes of saints peering at me from icons.

My therapist recently asked me, “What is prayer? Could your writing be prayer? Could your loving be prayer?”

Likewise, Madeleine L’Engle felt that any kind of creating of art is an incarnational activity.

So today, the poem I share addresses the idea of prayer in a unique way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ilya Kaminsky in person. He is a deaf poet. He can speak, and read lips, and read poetry in a way that no one else can. (Seriously – Google him!)

Author’s Prayer

by Ilya Kaminsky

If I speak for the dead, I must leave

this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over,

for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.

If I speak for them, I must walk on the edge

of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through rooms without

touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking “What year is it?”

I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.

Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and

in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music

in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest

days must I praise.

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