I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer recently, at least over the last 6 weeks. Prayer, as a word, is highly triggering for many people on both ends of the “religious” to “atheist” spectrum. I was raised Christian (liberal protestant) and fell away from organized religion in my 20’s and 30’s. Still, I’m not an atheist.
Agnostic with a side order of fries is usually how I feel I’m best described. And yeah, the word prayer, as it’s outlined by American Christianity (which more and more seems to be of an evangelical nature) usually triggers a negative reaction in me.
But it’s more than a phrase. It’s not anything more than being mindful. Paying attention to what matters.
And so, I’m doing more and more of that, and I thought this poem by Mary Oliver was perfectly timed as I heard it mentioned on a podcast.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA