The Answering of Prayers
What is it we do when we pray? Is it simply a matter of asking with the hopes of getting? While that is the caricature drawn by those who mock the idea of an immortal God concerned and engaged with His mortal creatures, to most for whom prayer is a way of life, or who would like it to become so, prayer is more about learning to tune our hearts, our desires, and our aspirations to those of the Lord. While we do lift up our physical needs and the needs of others for whom we pray with the expectation of God’s responsive presence and interaction with the world, the work of prayer is also—for every one of us—about the process that God began in the Garden: forming us according to His image. Put another way, prayer is how we learn what shape He has in mind for us and begin to fit ourselves to it.
With that sense of prayer as “becoming” in mind, Poet Pattiann Rogers seems to wonder, “Does the natural world pray?” The Psalms speak of the creation worshiping the Lord, and witnessing to His Glory, certainly. But though only humankind bears the image of the Creator and has conscious awareness of Him, is it possible that all of creation “desires” to grow into the shape He has in mind for it, as well? How might God respond to such wordless entreaties?
Rogers’ careful attention to the details of the natural world for the lessons it teaches about our relationships with God often reveals that process and pattern are the hallmarks of God’s agency in both nature and human lives. But in the poem given today, there is something more startling than a version of “God works in mysterious ways,” for the image of God Rogers gives us is anything but a remote actor or clockwork deity.
No, the God who makes irises is the Lord whose love for His creation is so intimate that He prepares within Himself the space into which it can grow. Many have heard in Sunday school that we have “God-shaped holes in our hearts,” but in Rogers’ imagery, God has a creation-shaped hole into which He calls it and us to be. Prayer—nearly seamless with praise in this picture—is the natural response of going where we are called to go, living towards presence both with and in Him.
Though there are clear echoes in Rogers’ poem of the lilies that Christ commended for their trust in the Father’s providence, it does not finally propose that we give up our initiative or set aside asking for the desires of our hearts. It does, however, give us new imagery for the way our prayers are met in advance by the Creator who has always already moved towards us, even while we were yet blind and dumb. From the beginnings He made a place for us with Him, and requires no more praise from us than the giving of our very selves.
“The Answering of Prayers”
by Pattiann Rogers
Because they have neither tongue
Nor voice, the iris are thought by some
Never to pray, also because they have no hands
To press together and because, born blind,
They cannot properly direct their eyes
Heavenward and, not insignificantly,
because their god has no ears.
Rising simply from the cement
Of their bulbs, the iris have no premeditated
Motion. They never place one appendage
Deliberately before another in a series
Crossing space. How can they ever formulate, then,
A progress of thought moving from “want”
To “request,” from “delight” to “blessing”?
How can they invent what they cannot envision—
A structure of steps leading from “self”
Consequently, and some may call it prayer,
They engage themselves in one steady proclamation
Which eventually becomes arched and violet
With petals, pertinently stemmed, budded
With nuance, a subtlety of lissome blades, a sound
Undoubtedly recognized by that deaf god
Who contains within his breast, like the sky-half
Of a spring afternoon, vacancies shaped
As missing floral clusters, purple-streaked
Intimacies. As rooted in his place as April,
It is their god who, standing hollow, precedes them
With the absence of brown-wine and lavender bouquets,
Ivory flags on grey-green stalks.
And in the unfolding act of his being filled,
As he becomes weighted, suffused with blossoms
And fragrance, as he feels his heart cupped
And pressed with the intensity of ascent,
In that act of being filled (perfect
Absolution) doesn’t he surround, doesn’t
He enable, doesn’t he with fitting eloquence
from Firekeeper, Expanded and Revised Edition (Milkweed, 2005). ©Pattiann Rogers.
Pattiann Rogers is an award-winning poet and essayist, the author of fourteen books including the most recent, The Grand Array: Writings on Nature, Science, Spirit. (Trinity University Press, 2010.) Born in Joplin, Missouri, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA from the University of Missouri before receiving her Master of Arts from the University of Houston. She has taught at the University of Texas, the University of Montana, Washington University of St. Louis, and Mercer University as the Ferrol Sams Distinguished Writer-in-Residence. She is the mother of two sons and the grandmother of three grandsons and lives with her husband, a retired geophysicist, in Colorado. A complete list of her work and honors may be found here.
Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.