We continue our Lenten Journey through Herbert’s poem Prayer, using the sonnets in my new book After Prayer. If you want a feel for the book itself and for what moved me to write it there is a full interview Here, conducted by Lancia Smith for her excellent ‘Cultivating’website. As we come towards the end of Herbert’s poem we arrive at one of his most profound and mysterious images. Herbert says that prayer is ‘the soul’s blood’! What does he mean by that? If prayer is to the soul what blood is to the body then we can think about prayer as the very life of the soul coursing through it, we can think about how blood absorbs and shares and circulates the oxygen it takes from the lungs, as prayer is open to and depends on the intimate breathing of God’s Spirit, we can think about how the blood must be nourished with iron and other elements lest we become anaemic; perhaps our prayer life too requires some real nutrients, some varied diet. I think too about how blood is circulating all the time even though we don’t consciously attend to it, and so is the prayer of the whole church and the innermost prayer of our souls. And just as we are only conscious of our blood when we are hurt or wounded and the blood comes to the surface, so too, many people who have not uttered a prayer for years will suddenly and rightly find themselves praying aloud in a crisis, as the soul’s blood comes to the surface. But most of all I think of how my heart keeps the blood in my body circulating, and Herbert’s image makes me realise that all prayer flows in and through Christ, that is why we end our prayers, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’. It is the sacred heart of Jesus, the heart of our loving saviour that beats in every prayer.
As always you can hear me read this poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
As I post these sonnets on prayer in the midst of the present crisis I pray for all my readers and ask you too, in your turn to pray for me.
Oh unacknowledged, rich and living stream,
Dark river in each vein and artery,
You pulse within us, even as we dream:
Our lifeblood, our salvation’s mystery,
We all ignore you till we bruise and bleed,
And you bloom red and reach the upper air,
And then we know and see you in our need
And every heartbeat is our body’s prayer,
As every pulse of prayer is our soul’s blood:
Some coursing through us all unconsciously,
Some owned and known and spoken out for good,
All given and returned, all flowing free
From heaven to earth and back to heaven, where
The heart of Jesus beats in every prayer.