A Prayer for all Students & a good Poem

Courtesy of my good friend Brian Williams, this is a prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). I find myself subconsciously in a constant search for good prayers. I am especially anxious to find prayers that are occasionally and vocationally specific. For instance, there is a perfect little prayer called, "In times of trouble," that appears in my pocket-sized Orthodox prayer book. Or during our years at Hope Chapel I crafted a "Prayer for an Artist." It was my feeble attempt to mimic the prayer that iconographers pray before beginning their work.

Aquinas' prayer is a prayer that any student can pray. For that matter, it's a prayer that anybody in the business of learning can pray, whether you're a homemaker or a scholar. Earlier this semester I tried to craft my own prayer. At the time I found myself sloshing through my morning devotionals. I had no sense of rhythm or ritual. Lacking this, I found it difficult to begin my day of study properly. I might spend 3 (mostly wasteful) hours on the internet. I might manically plunge in to my work, because of a panicky sense that I would run out time that day, but without any clear sense of what that time was for or of a grace by which I might use that time wisely.

I needed words that would help focus my mind. I needed help to give my thoughts proper direction. By proper I mean I needed a way to orient my work as a student to an ordinate end, which would ultimately be God, but which immediately would be the practical circumstances of that day--whether excited or bored, clearheaded or disoriented, grateful to be a doctoral student at Duke or wishing I were elsewhere.

St. Thomas offers me good words to pray into. I'll obviously pray my own ad hoc prayer afterwards. But being the forgetful and sinful creature that I am, I need daily help to see ordinately, to work ordinately, to love ordinately and to let my labors become an ordinate service to the church.

The poem is by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh. I discovered it in Ford and Hardy's book, Jubilate: Theology in Praise. I like Kavanaugh's poem for its fresh, crisp sense of God's creation. The photograph above is a peach blossom off a tree in our back yard.


Ineffable Creator...
You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign,
world without end.


“Canal Bank Walk”

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.


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