St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Every day is a polyphony, a song for many voices,
and though I do not always sing my part
I cannot help but notice
grace notes in the score: a little
ornamentation, a bléssed
of something yet to come

as when a brother asks at midnight
me to take him to Portland at noon:
a trill—a rest—I say: ‘yes.’
Grace comes pouring in.

“In vain is your earlier rising.”
Very well—so I sleep in.
And “what is the point of your praying?”
he asked me once over lunch—
a lunch, it must be said, that came premade,
unasked-for (at least by me),
sheer brute white bread being, apples
utterly immutable in their crisp cold haeccitas.

I pass the question on over another lunch
which, it must be said, breaks the Friday fast—
though this fact goes unremembered, like so many of its kind
(“uncomfortable truths” maybe, or
“inconvenient laws”)—and once asked
like a rock thrown in a pool
it dredges up an answer from the depths,
familiar because it rose to my lips too:

First that we pray because he loves us
to pray, like the bridegroom loves his bride
to play—the violin, perhaps, and so she plays
haunting sonatas, repeating certain phrases
he loves, and so she loves to return to,

Second that we pray, not to get or to gain
(whatever we may think)—but to become,
to enter into the dialogue or the symphony of love
and to be overcome! like the ocean overcomes
a sandcastle moat in the sand.

And by our endless asking
and our craving and pursuit
and our impatience and intemperance—
we do not notice—grace bears fruit
in us, shapes us, makes us new.

It is a channel, even if it is narrow,
even if it is dry and drowned in leaves.
Its name is “open.”
Its name is “yes.”

And so we pray:
the Angelus at 2:00, morning prayer at noon,
the Office of Readings in a sunlit sanctuary
where in a distant corner wizened women kneel before you
chanting softly in a very foreign tongue,

tiny prayers, beautiful blackbird-heartbeat phrases,
grace notes in traffic or in elevators
or whenever my eyes meet yours
in some unfamiliar face,

long prayers, hopeful prayers,
talking to you where others can listen,
you who speak when I forget my part
(she who responds with a “yes” or a “Jesus”
whispered with a mothering love),

simple prayers, Spirit prayers:
clarity, courage, comfort,
Lord show her she is beautiful
and beloved in your heart!—

silent prayers. Prayers like the ringing of the silence
after the bells. Silence speaking, saying
“friend, carry me to them.” And so I go
unto the altar of you who give joy to my youth.

How can one day or one song or one lifetime
or one still and silent moment
be so filled to overflowing?

A paradox—like chance is a paradox—
overflows when it is called providence.

This is day 38 of LABIA MUNDA, a series of forty poems during the forty days of Lent. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s