Author's note: Prayer is wonderful thing to think on. Way back in my college days when Eastern philosophy was sweeping youth culture, a sophisticated friend of mine pointed out that the practice of meditation was akin to prayer. I don't pray regularly, I don't practice any system of meditation, but unsystematically and in our own ways, I suspect we all do something like one or the other or both. The first two poems here are attempts explore cultural and personal meanings of 'prayer.' The third poem, directly influenced by musical settings of chants from the Hindu and Sikh religions, compares chanted prayers from those traditions with Western religious ideas, though with more irreverence than my own religious upbringing would likely countenance.
Words for 'Prayer'
a blank wall
on which nothing is projected
tricky seesaw noun clauses
on which two sides are balanced
causing forward, effecting away
Or, perhaps, a 'collect'?
(pass the plate)
a grace? (before eating)
a word anciently used for the act of 'calling' for the presence of a god
which may merely be a list of excuses
Oh, that happens in November
'evensong, matins, vespers'? -- what lovely words
for the way the sisters' voices join together
for a few transporting moments in "Call the Midwives"
'Appeal,' 'petition,' 'solicitation'?
All these sound like going to law.
If I am 'petitioning' the Almighty,
I am likely deceiving myself about the reach
of judicial redress
I will reserve words of this sort for those occasions
when, God Almighty,
I am truly in trouble
Other such words,
'conjuration, cry, desire'
and also 'call,' 'claim,' 'request'
all sound like excited demands for attention
like the landlord's angry "I pray thee, Lord Godfrey,
take thy hands off my daughter
and settle thy account!"
Not the way I wish to present myself
to the all-knowing, ultimately benevolent (so we trust; despite appearances)
solar divinity behind the shadows,
the great and powerful Oz above the little man
operating the gears
I'll take 'offering,' 'seeking,' 'contemplating'
in a state of 'mindfulness,'
that last full cup of aspiration,
a synonym in itself
serving as my current self-help reminder
for the state of consciousness
I wish to possess after giving a good shove
to the prayer wheel
Here we are
(as in the hymn "Here I am, Lord")
hungry for Attention
lining up for the camera
This Is My Prayer
Let's hear it for the Buddha of forgiveness
Next time around we will surely do better,
remember all we have learned
think first, sulk later, make better choices
(I can't think of any at the moment;
hopefully no snap quizzes in the afterlife)
the path to oblivion
the forgiveness of oblivion
Query: When we start anew,
will I have to be virgin all over again?
Somewhere in my heart lies the little girl voice
that sings 'Armor'*
in that rabbit hole of the Internet
when everything makes sense
sort of, because the part of you
that ordinarily tries to make sense
has long since signed off
I know of no way
to follow those tracks backwards
to the impressions of an hour
soft enough to be enticed from its mouse-hole
by liturgical longings
offered in words we are utterly unable
When our hours run out,
I have been told,
we must delve, as with a very long line,
to the bottommost part
of the Always-Present
known only by its absence
like the missing beat
at the end of the song
and sound that beat
sing that note
in the deepest well
of who we are
Prayer for the Waters of Sacred Confluence
I am listening to
"the secret power sound of Ganesh":
om gam ganapataye namah
called "the mantra to remove obstacles"
but sounding to me much like the prayers
of my youth
"One creator, truth his name, doer of everything --
Fearless, Supernal, Supreme"
Though not The Supremes, three voices in one keening the prayers of my adolescence
"One god [not, here, in-three-persons]
Undying, Unborn, Self Illumined.
So sayeth Ganesh
Meanwhile over in classical Latin literature land:
Our hero Aeneas, having gone to the Underworld, as classical epical heroes always must,
to -- visit? check up? on a mission from the gods? No, in Aeneas's case to touch base with his father --
and there encountering his recently departed helmsman Palinurus, unburied (washed overboard in the frequently, stirred up, Olympian-agitated sea: jealous feuding gods, Edith Hamilton shouting instructions from the sidelines),
having been chosen by the gods to be the sacrifice -- a human sacrifice, nota bene -- to purchase
safe passage for the Trojan diaspora to Italy,
and there waiting haplessly in the netherworld, unable (because unburied) to cross to the true underworld where he will rest among the 'shades,'
in a sort of unconvincing eternal holiday of Olympic-style games in green fields,
no women about;
and yet paradisal compared to Homer's account of shades
mostly moping about pointlessly hoping for news of home
Really, Virgil, emperor's right-hand scribe, Trojan channeler, diviner
of the godly base of Rome's legitimacy:
Is this the best that classical civilization came up with
for "religion" --
bury your dead, kills animals in their name?
Wouldn't we all be happier hearing
"Once Creator. Truth is His name"?
Or, in other words,
a translator's, of course, on whom
I am relying for this account of divinity:
"He is one, He is Ongkar, the supreme truth. He is the creator, beyond fear, beyond rancor."
This part sounds a whole lot like the monotheism I remember being taught
(How about you?)
As does this:
"A prayer, Divinity, for the dying,
for the peace and eternal oneness of their souls
in the bosom of Supreme Truth..."
(I confess to finding all this, movingly chanted
Who among us would not prefer the 'bosom of Supreme Truth,'
to those various other descriptions of the afterlife
arising in the West,
and the reprovingly arduous paths to get there
we learned of in our captive youth?
Enough with crucifixions
("we have been crucified with you": a line from a hymn that, candidly, makes me weep)
eternal penance, or waiting around on the wrong side the River Styx --
(sounds like: stinks? sticks? sickos?) -- until, in accord with a quaint custom mixing up the physical and the temporal with the spiritual and the eternal, "our sins" get prayed away
... or maybe paid away
on bargain basement indulgences.
Really, Nicene Creed of the West,
is this the best purpose for prayer?
Or how about "Ray Man Shabad"?
(translated, perhaps loosely, to "my mind without ego")
Yes, those first words do sound like 'Raymond,' whom everybody loves,
and the third like Shabbat, the Sabbath, on which the Masculine Pronoun rested.
Truly I think there is some confluence, or some spring of sacred origins,
from which all these words, and likely the notions behind them, spring
"Oh my mind," the chant goes
(the translation microbes in my think-machine working overtime)
"practice Yoga in this way
Singee saach akapat kanthalaa
("Let Truth be your horn, sincerity your necklace")
You bet I'll singee and I will blow my horn of truth -- can anything be more blatantly appealing than this admonition?
I'll blow yours, too, if you let me.
And this, rather surprisingly --
as least to me, lover of simplicity and logical sequence that I am --
is followed by explicit instructions on how to die.
"Let the soul (self) be the alms bowl in which you collect the sweet Naam and this will be the only support you will ever need."
You bet your sweet 'Naam' I will.
Then follows a concise guidance on meditation and
the ashes you apply on your body,
leading to THIS BEAUTIFUL CHANT
"The Universe plays its divine music.
The sound of reality is shrill, but this is where God is."
Is this not the best of news?
Don't we all know (or wish to believe), at the bottom of our minds,
underneath all life's sound and fury,
this is really so?
We all know 'shrill.' Try to get work on the 'T' at rush hour.
The beggars line the stairs at Park Street and when you emerge onto fresh air and frigid pavement, the bearded prophet is reciting -- in the nagging voice of the dedicated hater --
how the sinful will suffer for all eternity.
(Guy oughta know; he's there already.)
Frankly, I don't think Jesus wants this particular
dirty-beard killjoy on his home team.
There's more, always more:
We have sages, nectar, and a divine chariot,
and we are told to "clothe ourselves with self-control."
Good sartorial advice;
certainly how I hope to be dressed for my last moments.
We are therefore advised to learn to "meditate without meditating,"
which I take to mean that every ordinary moment is mindful
... and then, wondrously, and a little surprisingly,
"your body shall remain forever golden."
Personally, I'm not that wrapped up in what happens to my body.
That's the way of the pharaohs.
Then, after passing through several severe, though metaphorical (I hope) dangers,
the "terrifying, treacherous, impassible world ocean"
and the "Dark Age of Kali Yuga" (Age of Vice)
we are offered this final happily reassuring introduction to
"the Lord of the Universe. He is Merciful to all; He sustains us with each and every breath. Those who come to [pronoun of choice] with love and faith are never turned away
Well, listen to this!
Not so far, after all, from what I learned
in Saint George's Episcopal Sunday school.
... Aeneas, we know, will do the right thing.
He will find and bury Palinurus,
however deep his body is sunk in the depths of the mythic sea of stories.
The coin will be paid to loathsome Charon,
who ferries the dead man's soul
across to the infinite 'resting place'
And Aeneas, like all Western epic heroes --
like Dante himself, master chronicler of this geography --
will survive his tour of the Underworld
returning with renewed, and renewing, wisdom to do what he must,
which in his case is founding Rome.
How many of us, however good our CV, can say as much?
We are all stuck in time,
but time is not stuck on us,
and though our stories are tiny pieces -- a comma, maybe, a scratched-out syllable --
in the book of time,
our real life, or essence, or eternal soul, or spark of divinity,
is stuck like glue on the big screen
of the one true, insuperable epic for which we have so many names...
And, damn, these Eastern cats
have one heavy naming book.
© 2018 Robert Knox
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