Nondum by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Below is the poem that I quoted from in Sunday’s sermon. It is by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in the vast silence dies.

We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host at door or heart
Vacant creation’s lamps appal.

We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know no how our gifts to bring,
Where seek Thee with unsandalled feet.

And still th’unbroken silence broods
While ages and while aeons run,
As erst upon chaotic floods
The Spirit hovered ere the sun
Had called the seasons’ changeful moods
And life’s first germs from death had won.

And still th’abysses infinite
Surround the peak from which we gaze.
Deep calls to deep, and blackest night
Giddies the soul with blinding daze
That dares to cast its searching sight
On being’s dread and vacant maze.

And Thou art silent, whilst Thy world
Contends about its many creeds
And hosts confront with flags unfurled
And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds
And truth is heard, with tears impearled
A moaning voice among the reeds.

My hand upon my lips I lay;
The breasts’ desponding sob I quell;
I move along life’s tomb-decked way
And listen to the passing bell
Summoning men from speechless day
To death’s more silent, darker spell.

Oh! till Thou givest that sense beyond,
To show Thee that Thou art, and near,
Let patience with her chastening wand
Dispel the doubt and dry the tear;
And lead me child-like by the hand
If still in darkness not in fear.

Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word – as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks

(From Hopkins: Poems and Prose, 47-49)

* “Nondum” is Latin for “not yet.”

Prayer and Faith

Continuing with comments on Jacques Philippe’s book on prayer: Time for God

As we saw in the last post, Philippe suggests that advancement in prayer is not accomplished by the application of prayer techniques. This is because the life of prayer is ultimately a gift from God not a result of human effort. Rather than techniques there are heart attitudes that make us more ready for the reception of the gift of prayer.

We should not be surprised the first heart disposition that Philippe presents is faith. The author defines faith as “the ability for the believer to act, not on impressions, prejudices, nor ideas drawn from one’s surrounding, but on what the word of God says, that word which cannot lie.” We often do not feel that God is present or active during our prayer. Faith is acting on what God has said about his presence and action.

Philippe names three specific areas in which we must have faith in prayer:

  1. Faith in God’s presence. He cites Matthew 6:6 where Jesus promises that when we pray in secret our “Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
  2. Faith that we are called to meet God in prayer and that God gives us the grace necessary to do so. Prayer is not for the super-spiritual. God has called all of us to meet with him in prayer and what God calls us to do he gives grace for us to do.
  3. Faith in the fruitfulness of a life of prayer. When we pray and things don’t seem to happen it is easy for us to believe that prayer doesn’t work, that the slogan “Prayer changes things” is misleading. Philippe writes:

When we don’t see the fruits (of prayer) as quickly as we would like, it is tempting to give up on prayer. This temptation should be rejected immediately by an act of faith that the divine promise will be fulfilled in its time. “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8)

“But what if I don’t have much faith?” you ask. “How can I persist in prayer when I don’t have much faith?” The answer, paradoxically, is prayer! We share the simple cry of the father whose demon-possessed son Jesus healed: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

The Gift of Prayer

I am slowly reading through Jacques Philippe’s small book on prayer: Time for God.* What I have read so far has been simple yet helpful, so I thought I would pass it along.

Philippe’s first declaration is that the life of prayer comes to us as a gift from God not as a result of our efforts nor the application of techniques. He contrasts Christian prayer with the meditative practices of other religions that seek to achieve mystical experience through the performance of specific practices. But these are based in the efforts of humans. Christian prayer is a gift from God. This does not completely remove a human part to play. He writes:

Although–as we shall see later–a certain human initiative and activity has its place, the entire edifice of the prayer life is founded on God’s initiative and on his grace. We must never lose sight of the fact that one of the constant and at times most subtle of temptations in the spiritual life is to base it on our own efforts and not on the free mercy of God.

I particularly appreciate that Philippe brings in the aspect of human personality. He notes that there are always some people who are much better at employing techniques, being disciplined, or forming ‘spiritual’ language (‘hermosos pensamientos’ in his phrase). But since the reality of a prayer life is a gift from God, these abilities are not the sum and substance of a good prayer life. “Each one, by cooperating faithfully with the divine grace according to their own personality, with all their gifts and weaknesses, is able to have a deep prayer life.” Each of us has a God-given personality that has features that both help and hinder our prayer life. We must learn to work patiently with our own graces and limitations to receive God’s gift of himself through prayer.

While there are not “tricks” or “techniques” for the Christian prayer life, Philippe suggests that there are attitudes, certain dispositions of heart that set us up to receive God’s gift of prayer more readily. About those anon.

*For the record, I am reading it in a Spanish translation of the original French. Therefore, any of the English quotes you read below are my clumsy translations. The book is available in English. Since I have not yet read the entire thing I cannot at this time make a blanket recommendation.