It’s a Question of Prayer

Some 40 years ago at a college reading I said that there is another way to read W. H. Auden’s infamous quote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And that is that poetry, like most everything we create, takes what is nothing (not a thing) and makes it into something that happens, primarily in the human heart. I was told after that reading by several faculty members that I was, well, wrong and that I had twisted things “quite a bit.”

And I’ve stood corrected ever since. Then this week the bright light of a poet, Laura Donnelly, emailed an essay that suggests that Auden did in fact mean that poetry takes the “silence” that surrounds us, mixes it with language and does make something truly happen.

Needless to say, I am heartened by that. And I’m gonna expand that idea to apply to most all we do. At this precarious time, we need to hold fast to the fact that each of us can make “nothing” happen.

Think about it: you take a bunch of ingredients and put ’em together and out comes holiday pastries. You are with another, and out of that quiet you create a conversation that would not be there without you. I admit to being startled by the responsibility that comes with “making nothing happen.” With that, here’s this Thursday’s poem with the hope that it can enter your concerned heart and find a comforting place there.

It’s a Question of Prayer

Monks know we can be one

with what has no
words, no name, not even a murmur.

There we meet the modesty
of presence: It could be green,

slow, tattered, cold, alone
as a possum

crossing a backroad.
It’s the touch

of the still. Prayer
is a place where we are

allowed in.

We are Amen, Shalom, Namaste.

Our where, there, here,
our forgotten habitat of yes.

We become sigh, our “I”
the wisteria vine in the rain,

the wet dog,
the house sparrow

nesting in the stillness of brown.

–Jack Ridl

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34 thoughts on “It’s a Question of Prayer

    • Many thanks, David. My sense of your work is that this is also where
      the ineffable must be preserved. I’d add a smile about a Will W prayer,
      but why, when I know you are already smiling about such! : )

  1. Jack, so glad to receive your poem today and comment on W. H. Auden. I would like to read Laura Donnely’s essay or commentary which you mentioned. Here’s to a Happy Christmas to you and your family and friends and the Hope coming despite what looks like a powerful darkness. I sense that we of Middle Earth will have to face many Orks in order to reclaim the dreams of justice and peace God keeps giving those who can see beyond sight.

    • Hi Linda,
      Souls such as yours will walk with all of us.
      Don’t hesitate to email Laura. She ended her teaching
      this semester by having a conversation about the essay.
      La dolce far niente!
      And here’s wishing you the gentle joys of Christmas

    • Yes, this twitch of more light will extend.
      I am so grateful that you said “beautiful,” a word
      that needs renewal.
      Dancing with us always–you!

  2. ‘The touch of the still’…thank you for this early morning gift, Jack, this welcome manna. ‘Nothing’ will now lead my list of achievements for 2017 …

    • YES!!! Thank you, Michelle, so very much, for this Christmas gift of a message!
      Follow the Italian saying, “La dolce far niente”–“The sweetness of doing nothing.”
      Also, I am very happy to know that the poem was an “early morning” gift. I trust
      it went well with a bracing cup of French Roast!

    • Marla,
      Knowing what this season is for you and you all this year, I am touched and
      quietly grateful that the poem was the right poem for this moment. Please
      know of Julie’s and my care, helpless care, but care.

    • Oh what a joy, to hear from you, Ginger. As I think of you and David, I deeply know
      that this take on prayer is one you have lived. What a lucky little guy I was to
      know you and then be with you from then on. So grateful, so very grateful.
      Caring always,

  3. Jack,

    As always searching, finding, and so eloquently revealing the peace and stillness that eludes us so easily and that we need so much. Thank you. Have A Blessed Christmas.

    • During your most overwhelming duties, you carry the presence of that stillness and peace.
      It is palpable, and ever calming.
      Peace, Brother E

  4. Dear Jack,
    After receiving your wonderful card I immediately signed up for your blog and I know your poetry and thoughts will become an important ritual for me through the winter months. I especially love the line that” prayer is a place that we are always allowed in.” As I sit on my prayer rock every morning this is exactly how I feel.
    Cheryl and all the creatures at Nottingham

    • You are the spirit of Christmas, caring always for those who know not where to go for care.
      Knowing you are each day sitting on your prayer rock is heart-lifting.
      Hi and hugs to all the creatures of Nottingham

  5. “To everything, there is a season” and you ARE to every season, all by yourself. No person, thing, or time of year is not blessed when you write us a poem about it. Julie G

  6. Hallelujah! I¹ll sing in your choir any day!

    From: “” Reply-To: “RIDL.COM” Date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 5:36 AM To: Rosemerry Trommer Subject: [New post] It¹s a Question of Prayer Jack posted: “Some 40 years ago at a college reading I said that there is another way to read W. H. Auden’s infamous quote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And that is that poetry, like most everything we create, takes what is nothing (not a thing) and makes it into some”

  7. Jack, yes! I love this! Stillness and silence are so incredibly powerful! Not only have I found Spirit led prayer in the stillness, but it’s where thought and reflection are born. I do not spend enough time in this space. The habit of filling the silence with noise, does nothing for the soul.

    Blessings and stillness to you in the coming year!


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