The extended prayer of good books

Man Reading. Oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (undated)

Man Reading. Oil on canvas (undated) by John Singer Sargent [1856-1925]

There are some books that you can’t escape. No matter how many times you pass them over after putting them on your wish list years ago they’ve managed to hang on through every purge of your list.

So finally you order them. The time is right for whatever reason and you order them.

Yesterday I received two such books. One had been on my Amazon Wish List since May of 2011. The other had actually been removed a year ago and made a return to my list this summer. This is rare. Usually it’s “down the memory hole” once purged.

*****

portalofthemysteryofhope_bookcoverThe faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.

Thus begins Charles Péguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. One of the few poems by the French poet to be translated into English, it his masterpiece. I began to read it last night and am 30+ pages in. I confess to having been moved to tears once or twice so far. To date my favorite poems have included the likes of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Eliot’s Four Quartets and I am confident that The Portal of the Mystery of Hope will find its way onto if not atop this list. As I’ve spent much of the past two weeks praying for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope in my own life I thought it time to order this book.

Péguy wrote Hope a few years before he was killed at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 during WWI at the age of 41.

I want to offer a summary of this poem but have yet a long way to travel. I plan on re-reading it several times however and have marked several passages to share later. I’ll just say for now that it is a narration in the voice of God the Father and is a meditation on the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (Love) with Hope presented as a little girl that races ahead of her sisters Faith and Love. Many themes are covered by Péguy including fatherhood, childhood and the beauty of work.

After meeting the three sisters the poem becomes an extended meditation on fatherhood and mortality. This is the section that has connected with me the most so far. It continues for just over 20 pages and I’m including just a small section of it below:

For them, their father’s kiss is a game, an amusement, a ceremony.
A greeting.
Something taken for granted, something very good, without importance.
A simple little thing.
Something they don’t even particularly notice.
Which is as much to say.
It’s become such a habit.
It’s just something they’re owed.
Their heart is pure.
They receive it like a morsel of bread.
They play, they have fun with it like a morsel of bread.
Their father’s kiss. It’s their daily bread. If they only knew what it meant to their father.
Poor children. But that’s none of their business.
They’ll have plenty of time to learn about that later.
For now they only know, when their eyes meet their father’s gaze.
That he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself enough.
In life.

*****

The book that fell off my list but returned is Christopher by David Athey. Published in 2011 the book is described as follows:

Haunted by the heavenly, yet born of this earth, Chris grows toward manhood seeking to discover and become worthy of the perfect girl, but yearning even more to satisfy his God-hunger.

Page by page, mystery by mystery, adventure after adventure, and with ever-growing urgency, Christopher struggles to see the Light that is ever ancient and ever new, and finally to hear the Song that is beyond human language.

A modern love story and a quest for the Holy Grail, Christopher is a tribute to genuine love and to the Faith that shaped the best of our Western Civilization.

christopher_book coverI would sum it up as an individual’s dance with faith. I read the first one hundred pages last night before turning my bedside lamp off at 12:57am. I like that each chapter varies between 2-4 pages so that the book really seems to soar along from scene to scene. When we meet Christopher he is 11 years old, the only child of “children of the 60s” and adjusting to life on Lake Superior near Duluth, Minnesota after relocating from Sacramento, California.

Is it great literature? Probably not, and may seem an odd choice to some. But it has connected with me and brought back to mind scenes and thoughts from my own youth. In my experience with Divine Providence I’ve learned that there are reasons for events in our lives and that we don’t always discover what the reasons are. But I figure there is a reason this book kept coming back onto my radar. It has become personal. And isn’t that what all great books do on some level?

For example, this exchange between Christopher and the mother of his best friend Terra contained a truth about vocation that I needed to hear.

The band transitioned to the Chicken Dance, and the dancers responded like little kids. Chris was intrigued by the spectacle of Minnesotans flapping their arms. He noticed the growing smile on Mrs. Corwin’s face, and he said, “I’ll bet you miss your husband.”

The smile remained on the woman’s face, while her eyes grew sad. “Marriage is not a romance, Christopher. It is a sacrament. Like the priesthood.”

The boy nodded, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Do you think the priesthood is fun? It’s a sacrifice, Christopher. No matter what vocation you choose – or get called to by God – you have to give up almost everything else. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I have much joy in my life. Every vocation has its joys. Yes. And its sufferings.”

Mrs. Corwin took a big drink and gestured toward a young couple on the dance floor. “Marriage is more like a liturgy than a romance.”

As one Amazon reviewer pointed out:

Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” It is a catholic (universal) truth that we are all seeking God. If we don’t seek to satisfy that innate restlessness with Him, we will constantly be choosing superficial substitutions. This novel is the story of young Christopher who is in search of truth and ultimate meaning. Even at a young age, Christopher has the ability to see the presence of the holy in the natural world, yet he does not know God fully. Still, his mystical heart continues to search for true love which he must be prepared to give himself to unconditionally.

Christopher is an engaging novel that communicates the beauty and love of God. Through unique characters we see that the journey to know Him includes brokenness, loneliness and despair. It is a difficult road, but it is the only one that ultimately brings true, pure and everlasting joy.

That, in a nutshell, is why this book is resonating with me so far. And believe it or not I do see a correlation between the excerpt I placed above from Hope regarding fatherhood and the sacrifice of vocation as described in Christopher. There is much to meditate upon here.

*****

prayer of the presence of god_book coverI rounded out my order with The Prayer of the Presence of God by a Carthusian monk named Dom Augustin Guillerand because of my continued research and interest in prayer.

The first two books have been like that. Like prayer.

It has been my experience that the books I’ve enjoyed most in this life are like extended prayers.

Lord, please help me to write my own book of prayer for someone someday.

*****

Exit Question: Have any books connected with you as extended prayers in this way? Were there certain scenes, descriptions of nature, or characters that stood out in this way for you?

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2 thoughts on “The extended prayer of good books

  1. “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope”. What an incredible statement. Without faith it is impossible to please God….without hope, it is impossible to see Him. Amen and Amen. Thanks also for your support of my blog. Keep up the good work. I always learn when reading your work. 🙂

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    • I love that statement too. While Love and Faith get a lot of the “press” so to speak, I’ve recently felt compelled to consider Hope. Reading Péguy seemed the logical first step, and thus far I’ve not been disappointed. We must hold fast to Hope.

      And thank you for the support and kind words as well! Your blog is always an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. 🙂

      Like

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