After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

There are times for those who pray that it doesn’t seem possible. What words would one mutter in response to a horrific sorrow? Silence may be the most sacred of all prayers. I often think that prayer is there to lead us into being prayerful. Perhaps that’s one way to stand in opposition to what assaults all that is good and to overcome that which separates the sacred from the everyday. This week’s poem tries to enter that way of being.

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

“Pray as you can; not as you can’t.”
My prayers will sit on the backs
of bedraggled donkeys, in the sidecars
of Harleys, in the pockets of night
watchmen, on the laps of widows.
They will be the stones I walk by,
the smudges I leave on anything I touch,
the last place the last snow melts. They
will be brown, weekdays, potato pancakes.
They will stick to the undersides of porches,
docks, dog paws, and carpets. When I’m sick,
my cough will carry them. When you leave
in the morning, they will sink into the bed,
the sofa, every towel. I will carry them
in the modesty of my feet. Everything
will be praying: My dog will be petitioning
for mercy when he stops to sniff a post.
Every window in our house will be
an offering for supplication. The birds
at the feeder will be twitching
for my sins. I will say my prayers
are bread dough, doorknobs, golf tees,
any small and nameless change of heart.
When I forget my prayers, they will
bundle up and go out on their own
across the street, down into the basement,
into a small town with no mayor where
there is a single swing in the park. When
I forget, they’ll know I was watching TV,
the sky, or listening to Basie, remembering
the way my mother and father jitterbugged
to the big band station, he pulling her close,
then spinning her out across the green kitchen floor.

—Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

18 thoughts on “After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

  1. Jack, I’m a recent subscriber, and your poem is still a wonderful Thursday morning surprise. This idea about prayer fits so well into the life of this non-believer. Thanks for brightening my life.


    • I am with ya. What’s belief got to do with it?!! It’s a way of being in and with.
      Thank you for being with the project and for this message, so very much
      PS. You’ll have to ask Jane about another recent poem. : )

  2. And just as I was believing there are no words capable of expressing what I am feeling, you offer this poem. Amen and amen and amen.

    • I can’t imagine your week this week, Kristen. Good heavens, each of them
      is filled with trauma and then this. I am so glad that the poem was able
      to help a bit and lead to Amen.

  3. Oh my, I read it this morning–or late last night, I can’t remember. It is so moving. I’m so grateful to you for opening my eyes to Jack Ridl!

    I hooked my sister, Karin, up to him, and Max as well. They both love him now!

    Isn’t that a wonderful musing?

    I love you, Amy

    • Hi Amy,
      How lovely to know all of this.
      This is, oh my yes, a wonderfully humbling musing.
      I hope we can stay connected in this good way.

  4. I remember this poem as a gem from the first time I read it years ago. It bears repeating; wears as well as any poem that has made its way to print. Yessir.

    BjS >

  5. I love this!!!!! Kathleen

    *” No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books.”*

    *Elizabeth Barrett Browning*

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