Daily Archives: March 4, 2015

Prayer/Walk

The land's long memory in ridge and furrow

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow

Here is today’s poem and commentary from my Lent Book The Word in the Wilderness

 
https://audioboom.com/boos/2952243-prayer-walk.mp3
Prayer/Walk   Malcolm Guite

 

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,

Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,

And crossing places taken hand in hand,

 

The passages where nothing need be said,

With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot

And unexpected birdsong overhead,

 

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

 

A track once beaten and now overgrown

With complex textures, every kind of green,

Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

 

The rich meandering of streams at play,

A setting out to find oneself astray,

And coming home at dusk a different way.

 

Continuing these reflections on the nature of prayer itself, I offer another of my own poems, which, like Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘Homecoming’, is written in direct homage to Herbert’s poem ‘Prayer’. I had come to notice that on retreats it was not always in the ‘offices’ in chapel, but also on walks and rambles in and around retreat house grounds that I found the deepest spiritual renewal and the best prayer. So I decided to write a poem that would be at once a celebration of walking in the countryside and of prayer itself. Every phrase in this poem is, I hope, both an account of what walking is like and an emblem of what prayer is like. As I have done with the previous two poems I will just lift out and open one or two phrases and encourage my readers to do likewise with the rest.

 

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,

 

I have noticed how often interesting footpaths and bridleways start just beyond the brambles at the end of tarmacked roads marked ‘dead end’. And it seemed, for me at least, that is very often where prayer starts too. I am sure that prayer should be a first resort, but for me it is sometimes the last resort when I’ve tried everything else! I’ve also noticed that the places in life where I get stuck and come up as it were against a ‘dead end’ sign, are inevitably the important places, the places where there is real stuff to deal with and that is precisely why I get stuck or find it difficult to move forward. Too often one simply shies away from these personal dead-ends and goes for the first diversion (usually Facebook!) to try something easier. But when I’m walking, the opposite is true. It gives me pleasure to walk down the apparent dead-end and find the hidden path where the cars can’t go, strike out across the fields and leave the traffic behind, so I have tried to apply this to my prayer life. To begin the prayer at one of my personal dead-ends and ask God to open up the path. That technique has had some surprising and beautiful results!

 

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,

The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,

The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

 

You sense, on a good country walk, the hidden richness and depth of everything that is going on around you. You know that what you actually see; the close up path ahead of you, the distant panorama, the occasional sweeping view of wider fields, are only a trace, a hint of what’s really there. Sometimes you suddenly hear the hedgerow rustle or see the tracks of badgers or deer and you realize that you are walking past a whole web of life and exchange of which you are only partly aware. Again, features in the landscape itself suddenly speak of a long history and almost take you there. The ridges and ripples in a field you cross that are remnants of the mediaeval ‘ridge and furrow’ agriculture, where your ancestors toiled on their separate ‘strips’ of soil, divided between the children of a large family. Again it seemed to me that this experience is very true of our prayer life. When we begin to pray we have to start where we are, usually just on the surface of our lives, but there is always so much else going on. We all have a familiar surface to our lives but are there not also, deeper in our psyche, the burrows and dens, where the shyer and more furtive elements of our inner life are rooted and nestling. Might these, half-acknowledged parts of ourselves also be brought to God for blessing, noticed a little and offered to him? Have we not also those longer and deeper memories, perhaps going right back into our family histories, which have, as it were shaped the landscape of who we are? Perhaps prayer, and particularly prayer in Lent might be a time to bring them for blessing and healing to God, for whom all times are present, in whom is the fullness of time.

Perhaps these last two poems, both responding to Herbert’s prayer, might encourage you to make a ‘listing’ poem of your own, filled with the images that have become, or could become, living emblems of your prayer life.

 

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

Here also is a beautiful journal and illustration responding to today’s prayer from Tracey Wiffen whose blog you can find Here

Tracey Wiffen's journal

Tracey Wiffen’s journal

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