Keller on pages 28-32 of his book on Prayer introduces a poem by poet George Herbert (1593-1633). This poem deals with the subject of prayer in one hundred words and without a single verb. What we get is two dozen word pictures. Keller goes on unpack the richness of this poem of prayer and prayer itself. It’s really worth a full read. But here’s Herbert’s poem reproduced along with a summary of Keller’s explanation.
PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kind of tune, which all things heare and fear;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.
Prayer is “Gods breath in man returning to his birth.”
Prayer is a natural human instinct.
Prayer can be “softnesses, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss”.
Prayer is a nourishing friendship.
Prayer also is “a kinde of tune.”
Prayer changes those around us.
Prayer can be a “land of spices”.
Prayer is a journey.
Prayer can serve as a kind of heavenly “Manna” and quiet “gladnesse”.
Prayer helps us endure.
Prayer is “the soul in paraphrase”.
Prayer means knowing yourself as well as God.
Prayer is also an “engine against th’ Almightie”, “church-bels beyond the stars heard” and indeed are “reversed thunder”.
Prayer changes things.
Prayer is a “sinner’s towre”, the “Christ-side piercing spear”.
Prayer is a refuge.
Prayer is “a kinde tune” that transposes “the six daies world” with one “houre”.
Prayer changes us.
Prayer is a “plummet sounding heav’n and earth”.
Prayer unites us with God himself.
Prayer is “something understood.”
Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle-yet the way to reality.