On Prayer

Marc Chagall  royal-painting.com

Marc Chagall

Even the atheist prays
One simply cannot take in
without at some point giving out
What is applause but the explosion
of the spirit of an audience filled
with an hour of Beethoven
A shout of acclimation

How can anyone stand
on top of a great mountain
survey the panorama presented
or look down into a grand canyon
from the ledge of the vast abyss
ponder millennial mysteries
and not cry Good God!

A mind may well argue
the irrationality of theology
but the remainder of one’s body
simply refuses to sit still keep silent
in the face of the miracles of life
or the conundrums of death
and not exhale Good God!

“A prayer is a giving out, an offering, compounded by honest work
and acceptance of the shape in which one has been created of humble
things added to the great three: faith, hope, and love.” ~ Rumer Godden


About Peter Notehelfer

I'm a retired people person who now finds the time to watch the little details of the world without worrying about being watched by anyone . . . I live on an Island north of Seattle with my wife named Ellen, a yellow dog named McGee, a yellow cat named Gatzby, and four fine chickens . . . I read fiction, bake bread, smoke salmon, and fish whenever the weather allows . . . Oh, and yes, I try to write a poem every day simply to avoid senility!
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10 Responses to On Prayer

  1. Love this poem and the quote!


  2. Actually, no. Not all atheists pray and when confronted with a wonderful sight or experience, we are able to enjoy it without talking to or believing in a mythical supernatural being.



  3. I read the entire thing twice. Exclaim at mountains. Millenial mysteries etc.

    Why do people just make stupid assertions like you didn’t read it but not offer an explanation of why they think that?

    I read it. I’m an atheist. I don’t say good god. I don’t pray. Yes I experience the same wonder that a theist might but I don’t relegate it to a soul or a deity. It’s just human.


    • Peace, Brother . . . This is poetry, not theology 101. The prompt for the poem is in the quote at the bottom: that we can ‘take in’ only so much of the grandeur of the world without having at some point to ‘let out’ our breath. It suggests that such is the nature of ‘prayer’: an expression of our awe in an awesome world. I’m sure you express your awe in different ways than I do and that’s perfectly fine with me. That you do not choose to call it prayer is fine with me too. I am not an apologist for God if that’s what you’re thinking; I am an apologist for poetry as an expression of humanity’s presence in the face of mystery. If I offended you, forgive me; if not, thanks for listening to me . . .


  4. I agree that so much if not all of true prayer is subconscious, deep, running from the soul. So if our minds say we do not attribute these wonders to God, well, our souls may disagree. Praise!


  5. No, that’s not prayer. The feeling of awe before the wonder and beauty of the world is simply that. Calling it “prayer” is cute, but inaccurate. I suggest you read a little John Muir. . .and perhaps meet some real non-believers.


    • Poetry is art, not science. That the word ‘prayer’ should be so threatening to my atheist friends seems almost humorous. Prayer is not a word reflecting any particular dogma; simply an expression of a human response in the face of mystery. Seems atheists are more threatened by appearing human than they are by defending godlessness . . .


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