Prayers from the Ark: Book Review

In one of her books (I love them all and don’t remember which one), Madeleine L’Engle reflected on the challenges of convincing publishers that A Wrinkle in Time was a children’s novel. It was too complex, too scientific, too fantastical, too emotionally heavy, too emotionally fragile. Adults — publishers — thought it would be difficult for children. What they meant was that it was difficult for themselves. Children had the imagination for A Wrinkle in Time. Adults did not.

Prayers from the Ark is described as a children’s book of prayers. I wonder if some adults might find the prayers too fantastical, too poetically complex, too emotionally provocative for children, which suggests to me that Prayers from the Ark is precisely the kind of book that adults should read too — to challenge our imaginations, to provoke our wonder, to surprise our hearts, to unsettled our spiritual settledness.

Written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold during World War II and translated by Rumer Godden for English publication in 1962, with illustrations by Jean Primrose, Prayers from the Ark gives devotional voice to a congregation of animals, each in their own unique style & perspective:

The tortoise prays,
“A little patience,
O God,
I am coming.”
Aren’t we all working our way toward God, slowly, slowly?

The giraffe confesses,
“I feed on exalted things
and I rather like
to see myself so close to Your heaven.
Humility!”
Shouldn’t we all confess such a diet?

The donkey pleads,
“Give me great courage and gentleness.
One day let somebody understand me–
that I may no longer want to weep.”
And my heart breaks: for me, for the donkey, for all of us.

I wonder where Prayers from the Ark has been all my life: such a gem of inspiration, such an exploration of emotion, such a simple invitation to prayerful honesty. I feel blessed to have a copy now, passed along to me by way of several familiar & treasured hands. It’s the kind of book (along with its companion The Creatures’ Choir from the same talented trio) that doesn’t live on my bookshelves but on my bedstand, where I can read it often to comfort & inspire my spirit.

Give Prayers from the Ark to the children in your life, yes — their imaginations will delight in the animals’ voices — but give it too to the adults in your life whose spirits might be running a little dry, whose imagination for the goodness of God might be struggling these days, and/or whose love of creation informs their love of God.

Immanuel (Lent 19)

To the depths of Sheol,
hear earth’s cry for wars to cease
and bloodshed to be atoned.
Let your holy sign bloom lavishly
with every bud breaking ground this spring.

As high as heaven, O God,
witness your people’s tears outpouring
and their feet dragging in weariness.
Let your holy sign shine daily
with every sunrise proclaiming hope.

Through the diversity of all creation,
feel the bodily laughter and the heat of sweat
bringing expression to the life you’ve given.
Let your holy sign be embodied
by the flesh of your people with lovingkindness.

on Isaiah 7:11

Patience (Lent 17)

I bless the earth
for nurturing the daffodil
in secret until the robins are ready
to herald its cheery bloom.

I bless the spring peepers
for freezing solid in wintery woods
to wait faithfully until the early spring thaw
beckons love’s chorus.

I bless the sun
for biding its time through the night
without fear of shadows or stillness until the dawn
has its shades of blush ready to paint.

I bless the soloist
for lingering over and letting go of
every note so reluctantly until even eternity
holds its breath with longing.

I bless the Everlasting God
for abiding beyond hours and seasons
with mysterious patience until the rigidity of chronos
yields to the miracle of kairos for life.

Day Song

The sun rises as the day’s ostinato.

The juncos interject
their staccato.

The clouds soar in descant,
whistling from the west.

The fox barks out a tempo,
the squirrel chatters out of time.

Melting snow pings out its melody
along the roof and down the rainspout.

A few lingering dry leaves rustle their counterpoint.

The Christmas rose lifts its face
to greet the strain.

And the river
murmurs.

Each day the song
is the same. Each day
the song is brand new forever.

Glory be to God.

on Psalm 96:1