Footnote to All Prayers

The more I think about prayer, the less I understand, and the less I understand, the harder it is to pray. It’s rather like trying to drive a car after dismantling the engine.


The book of James invites me to pray for wisdom (1:5), then tells me not to expect an answer if I have any doubts (1:6-8). Hmmm.


There is, however, a footnote to prayer that I do understand—and heartily affirm. It was published by C. S. Lewis in 1934 and distills more truth in 14 lines than most books on the subject. The theology far outstrips the poetry.



Footnote to All Prayers


He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow

When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,

And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart

Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.

Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme

Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,

And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address

The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless

Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert

Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;

And all men are idolaters, crying unheard

To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.


Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great

Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.



[You English Majors will recognize this as a sonnet, but for extra credit, is the metre (sic) Petrarchan or Shakespearean?]



2 thoughts on “Footnote to All Prayers

  1. I see a (rather weak) rhyming couplet in the concluding lines – so… SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET!! I confess I googled Petrarchan – as I could not remember the details of its identification. But the rhyming couplet thing is still stuck in my head after all these years…

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