Thursday, November 09, 2006

The doorway into thanks

My retirement nest at the college is in the midst of the English department, a congenial place to be. I don't know why, but one of my literary colleagues was passing out to his students Samuel Taylor Coleridge's journal notes on prayer:
First stage -- the pressure of immediate calamities without earthly aidence makes us cry out to the Invisible.

Second stage -- the dreariness of visible things to a mind beginning to be contemplative -- horrible Solitude.

Third stage -- Repentance & Regret -- & self-inquietude.

Fourth stage -- The celestial delectation that follows ardent prayer.

Fifth stage -- Self-annihilation -- the Soul enters the Holy of Holies.
I can't say that I understand what the poet meant by all this, but it sounds vaguely like the evolution of prayer in my own life. I would translate it something like:
First stage -- Help!

Second stage -- Here I am!

Third stage -- O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee...

Fourth stage -- Gee! -- followed by -- Wow!

Fifth stage -- silent attention.
I've been reading Mary Oliver's newest book of poems, Thirst, and I hope she won't mind if I copy here a few fifth-stage lines from a poem called Praying.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention...