During my week of study leave in New Haven, I’m reading both poems and also essays by poets. They fascinate me further into faith, and I pass on one example from the poet and memoirist, Mary Karr.
Before Mary Karr believed in God, she began to pray to stay sober. “And I didn’t get drunk,” she writes in “Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer.”
Mary Karr’s prayers for sobriety took place at the behest of her spiritual advisor, an ex-heroin addict. Later a fellow poet told her that giving thanks in prayer was not so hard. And as she began to give thanks, Mary Karr began to notice much to which she had previously been blind, “the small good things that came in abundance.”
Yet later, during a time of personal crisis, another friend passed on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which includes:
O Divine Master, grant that I not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love
As she prayed these words, Mary Karr continued to resist references to God, and yet she also began to experience peace. Eventually, at the request of her child, she began to pray and worship with others in church; and all the practices together yielded a comfort, direction, and joy that led her to God.
Coming to God did not end Mary Karr’s journey of faith. During the winter right before writing her essay about faith, Mary Karr experienced a spiritual wasteland. Writing the essay opened some windows to light, and when she got back on her knees, she “felt God’s sturdy presence, and [she] knew it wasn’t God who’d vanished in the first place.”
When Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus continued to pray that his faith would not fail. (Luke 22:32) Whatever your journey or struggle feels like today, Jesus prays a version of that prayer for you. “The Lord is near,” and as both Jesus and you keep praying “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7)