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Praying by Mary Oliver

Posted on Aug 6, 2016 by

Doorway Toscana

I’ve been thinking about poems as prayers—or poems that could be prayers—and what that might mean.


Prayer for Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

Prayer for the Dead by Stuart Kestenbaum


I found these lines from the prologue to a volume of poetry, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, by Marie Howe:

the men who’d hijacked the airplane prayed where the dead pilots had been sitting,

and the passengers prayed from their seats

—so many songs went up and out into the thinning air . . .


It’s a powerful image—that juxtaposition—the prayers of the hijackers and the hijacked—so many thoughts and words—and certainly some can be misguided—confused—and it does matter what kind of prayers we offer—what kinds of poems—what kinds of thoughts and words. These could, I’m reminded here, become a matter of life and death.


I found these synonyms for prayer: invocation, intercession, devotion, appeal, plea


And I remembered this short poem, “Praying,” by Mary Oliver:

this isn’t

a contest but the doorway


into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.


Oliver seems to offer here a kind of gentle guidance. And to raise questions:

Prayers as doorways into gratitude?

Prayers as a way of creating a space that invites someone else in rather than shutting them out?

(thus a prayer that sought to obliterate another person wouldn’t actually be a prayer?)


And perhaps this is a clue as to how a poem can become a prayer?

By creating a doorway?

Creating a kind of necessary silence?

Creating a space for another to reflect and write and create their own prayer?


See also

On The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

On Opening the Door of Mercy

Full text of Mary Oliver’s poem at Poem Elf

Photo at Wikimedia Commons