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Poetry

pace Thomas Merton

When you pray, let your tongue
taste the words it forms,
and let your mind watch the meanings forming.
This will paralyze your prayers,
but it will stop your meaningless recitations.

Next, as you pray to God,
think about his omniscience, his power,
his goodness and the problem of theodicy.
This too will stifle your prayers but,
done at other times, will cause you to pray.

Then, in times of prayer, think of your problems,
your dread of the coming day’s tests,
of chores, illnesses and duties.
You may turn these distractions into petitions,
but alone they will not be satisfactory prayers.

This brings one to the asking of favors
on behalf of ourselves, our friends, and the church.
This is something, but it is not enough,
for it is not focused directly upon God.
Still, even a little from one so great is much.

And then you may see through your prayer
as through a clean window, not seeing the window
but seeing God’s mercy, and in that his love,
watching him adopt you as his child,
wretched child though you have been and are.

Yet still you see yourself as you pray,
and then you long to disappear, to see only God,
for your prayers no longer bring consolation
and you acknowledge for the first time that
you never loved him, but actually loved yourself.

For your love for God was a miserly love,
doled out in complacency, false modesty, conceit.
You were too self-confident, ignoring your self-delusions,
unafraid of being called a person of prayer.
Now you are terrified, and you finally regret your sins.

And now you pray, expecting nothing.
Now your pride has evaporated in the aridity.
Now any crumb of the stalest spiritual bread satisfies,
even surprises you that God should attend to you.
Now you truly pray, without knowing what you are saying.


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