my birthday present

my birthday present
My awesome birthday present 1/26/11 (see story under my first post)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is Prayer Poetry?

Prayer by Elie Wiesel
I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

(This prayer originally appeared in a diary and was included in Weisel’s collection One Generation After.)
“Literature and prayer have much in common. Both take everyday words and give them meaning. Both appeal to what is most personal and most transcendent in a human being. Both are rooted in the most obscure and mysterious zone of our being, nourished by anguish and fervor.” ~Elie Weisel 


pkcyphert said...

I have had some interesting responses to this post. One person said “I believe that this poem is also a prayer and this prayer is also a poem! It invites the reader to pause and learn, to be challenged and to reflect on the "words and feelings" in between the lines.”
Another agreed it is a poem but that she was not sure it is a prayer because this is not the way she talks to God. That statement made me reflect how our understanding of prayer is based on our experiences. My religious upbringing would never permit one to challenge or question God. As a Jew though, Elie Weisel was encouraged to question everything in order to fully understand and appreciate God. In this prayer he confronts God from a vantage point none of us could ever fathom. For example, he tells in his book Night of being forced to watch a young boy hang, and because his body was so light it took 30 minutes for him to fully suffocate. One of the prisoners cried “Where is God?” to which Weisel bitterly thought, “Hanging there.” His God had abandoned him and his people in the concentration camps, yet he continued to pray.
The line I find most confusing is when Weisel says to God, “Love is not yours to give.” I would speculate that what he means is that love has to be something that humans are able to find within ourselves and in others. If we are not able to figure out how to share love with each other, there is little God can do to demonstrate love, for do we not need people to fully recognize the power of love?
In any case, I find Weisel‘s relationship to God very interesting. Even though the relationship has radically changed, he does not deny God. Like me, he seems to have abandoned the idea that the function of God is to swoop down and selectively rescue and take care of some of us. Nevertheless he clings to God and to the child within and asks God to listen to that child.

Loretta said...

Very well said, Pam. This clarifies some things I had in my mind.

marie-josé said...

When I first read this piece, I felt it was a quest for faith. In other words, Wiesel is searching rather than finding. Which is the sign of a true mystic. And also of a true poet. If a mystic is searching for faith, a poet, through language, is searching for truth --at least her truth. Or beauty. Or some absolute. In any case, something unreachable. Remember the musical based on Cervantes' DON QUIJOTE, MAN OF LA MANCHA? The lyrics: "To dream the impossible dream... To reach the unreachable stars ..." Something like that. What matters is the quest; it's what makes us alive.