A few poems on prayer: #6. A little Emily Dickinson

by Kim on September 22, 2010

Prayer is the little instrument
Through which Men reach
Where Presence - is denied them.
They fling their Speech

By means of it - in God’s Ear -
If then He hear -
This sums the Apparartus
Comprised in Prayer -


Of Course - I prayed -
And did God Care?
He cared as much as on the Air
A Bird - had stamped her foot -
And cried “Give me” -
My Reason - Life -
I had not had - but for Yourself -
‘Twere better Charity
To leave me in the Atom’s Tomb -
Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb -
Than this smart Misery.


There comes an hour when begging stops,
When the long interceding lips
Perceive their prayer is vain.
“Thou shalt not” is a kinder sword
Than from a disappointing God
“Disciple, call again.”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }


dh 09.22.10 at 4:12 pm

Wow, how sad and depressing Emily sounds. Thank God that through prayer we can have a relationship with God way different than what Emily has experienced.


Tony Buglass 09.22.10 at 4:47 pm

We can. But sometimes it doesn’t work quite like that, does it? You never been through the dark night of the soul? Never felt that all your certainties had dissolved, and heaven was silent? That’s when faith really counts - trusting in what you can’t see.


Kim 09.22.10 at 5:39 pm

Yes, Dickinson’s experience of No One at the end of the line is in the tradition, for example, of the Psalmist’s interrogations, laments, anger, and protests. We don’t allow nearly the space we should for honest anguish and doubt in our churches (for, if you like, hellelujahs as well as hallelujahs), which become places of denial, repression, and arrested spiritual development.


dh 09.22.10 at 6:07 pm

I have had the dark night of the soul but I have always had the attitude “yet I will praise Him” and I have never doubted that God was not soverign or not in control. I might not understand it when it may appear heaven is silent but I understand there are many things we are not meant to understand. I also understand how in Scripture when he had his dark night of the soul to ask God “Why haven’t you answer my prayer earlier? (paraphrase) the answer (paraphrase) “For 21 days I have been fighting a principaliy to get the answer to you.”

Kim, when the Psalmist was angry, lament and protests one must look for full context the passages there after mentioned after the “yet” where it says “Yet I will still praise Him.” We should never let our doubt inhibit our relationship with God where we diminish our Faith. aka “Being confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We might not get the answer in this life but that doesn’t mean that God won’t answer the prayer in the life to come. We must focus not only in this life but include a focus on the eternal to help us on this side of heaven to truly feel the comfort to “press toward the goal” as God says through Paul. That isn’t denial, repression or arrested spiritual development that is what moving from “faith to Faith” is all about.

Kim, the Psalmist DID get the answers unlike Emily. That begs the question regarding Emily. When one focuses solely on the negative however horrendous and terrible it may be and not the good it can lead to this sort of thing. If one solely focuses on this futile human life and not life encompassing the eternal it can lead to that as well. Masn, if God knows how many hairs are on our head then He truly cares for us even though in this life it may appear He at times doesn’t answer our prayers. The reasons for the lack of answer or appearant lack of answer to prayer are many but they are not infinate. Scripture states all of the many reasons and they aren’t mutually-exclusive. One really needs to ask the questions at all of the many possibilities for this not unlike a vin-diagram and one can see the truly amazing soverign God that He is.

The story of Moses is one that is truly amazing regardin his Faith. People think that Moses didn’t have the choice to go into the promised land when in fact he did. Moses could have went into the promised land without God’s presence or he could stay in the desert on the East side of the Jordan with God’s presence. This is analogous to us as well. I would much rather have no limbs, no sight and no hearing in God’s presence than to have all of my faculties and be without God’s presence. That isn’t to deny how difficult that would be and I know God would give me the Grace if I was ever, God forbid, in that situation no matter how it may not appear to be the case. For me the presence of the Lord is so much better than this futile, limited, etc. fleshly life.

“God’s ways are greater than our ways.” We should never make presumptions on God.


Beth 09.22.10 at 6:14 pm

Beeeeep. I’m sorry. God is not available to take your call right now. If you leave your name and number after the tone, someone will get back to you within infinity working days. Thank you for praying!


dh 09.22.10 at 6:16 pm

Beth, I’m sorry you have that attitude toward prayer. It would interesting to hear your thoughts on my previous response.


dh 09.22.10 at 8:10 pm

“I also understand how in Scripture when he had his dark night of the soul to ask God “Why haven’t you answer my prayer earlier? (paraphrase) the answer (paraphrase) “For 21 days I have been fighting a principaliy to get the answer to you.””

Sorry that was in reference to Daniel. :( :) Oh well.


Tim Chesterton 09.22.10 at 8:38 pm

I’m grateful for Emily’s prayer. Like her, I don’t always get what I ask for. Like her, I’d sometimes like it better if God said, “Tim, I’m not going to answer this one, so could you move on, please?”

This poem sounds like Job, and Qoheleth, and the author of Psalm 88. They are in the Bible too, and at times they speak for us.

On Monday a good friend who I have known for over thirty years died of complications from kidney disease. He has suffered a great deal over the years, all the way back to the early 1980s when one of his three sons committed suicide. His life was full of questions, but he took the questions faithfully to church with him week by week, and never gave up on God. I think one of the reasons he could do that was because in his church they pray the psalms regularly instead of insisting that every service be one long hallelujah. The psalms teach us that we can pray every moment of our lives, the depression as well as the exaltation, the questions as well as the answers.


dh 09.22.10 at 9:12 pm

Tim, I totally appreciated your last paragraph. The key point was “they never gave up on God”.

I agree the poem sounds to a point like Psalms and Job. However, these people never gave up on God. Emily sounds different.

Tim, thanks for writing the story of your friend. I hope it wasn’t toob difficult for you. Sometimes it can be hard emotionally to do that and for that I feel you are very brave. It sure does sound like your friend was a really awesome guy.

You mentioned: ““Tim, I’m not going to answer this one, so could you move on, please?” When our focus includes “the life to come” then our response sould be one of being “in the hands of God” and “patience”. However, that is easier said than done and I think that is the point of and others response. Am I right? :)

You friend reminds me of a friend of my dad. This man was a multisport star in college at the Univ. of Oklahoma and drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (American baseball team) in the 60’s. From there he was drafted into Vietnam. There he lost both of his legs and his dream of being a baseball star was gone. Soon after he got back his wife died in a car wreck. He soon married again and after 20 years of marriage his wife had cancer and she died. His response is always “God’s ways are greater than my ways.” and he always tells me that how he couldn’t get threw any of the things he went through without his relationship with God. Of any people, not unlike Tim’s friend, he had every reason to question hard. However, I have never seen him down or sad. He always has a smile on his face and is such an encouragement. However a couple of months ago I saw him working at a sport shop at the local mall. He was having a proceedure to help him wal on his prothetics. After so many years they say changes have to be made and sometimes that requires surgery. I ask to pray with him and he took a breath of fresh air and said “thanks”. He then after all of that mentioned a passage of Scripture and amazingly I became more encouraged than he did.

These are the people that are used in our life for encouragement to know that in whatever we face in life nothing is too difficult for God and with God in our lives and a relationship with Him we can get through anything and I mean anything if we let Him help us.


Tim Chesterton 09.22.10 at 10:24 pm

My friend was different from yours, DH; he found faith difficult (in the sense of the feeling of faith and joy), but his faithfulness was an inspiration to me.

I think if I am coming across as being negative about your comments it is because I am wondering if you are trying to move people too fast. The Book of Job tells us that when Job’s three friends first arrived they took one look at him and then sat in silence with him for seven days. After that, they proceeded to give him theologically correct ‘pat answers’; they’d have been better to keep quiet.

I think that when people feel as Job felt, and as Emily Dickinson obviously felt, they don’t need to have their theology corrected. They probably need someone to give them a hug and make them a cup of strong tea (in the name of Christ!).

Thanks for your thoughts. My friend’s name is Bill and his widow is Elaine; their sons are Larry and Bob, and they have grandchildren too. I would be grateful for your prayers for them.


Kim 09.22.10 at 10:39 pm

Emily had a love-hate (mainly the latter) relationship with Jesus - though she wouldn’t - or couldn’t - be rid of him. Basically, she found him unreliable, and could be quite verbally abusive about him, and yet there was a yearning … She hated the cross, at least in what she took to be its cruel, punitive role in the doctrine of the atonement which she garnered from New England evangelicals. (And Darwin’s dent in the argument from design - and Tennyson’s “nature, red in tooth and claw” - didn’t exactly help her believe in a benificient providence.) But the human, suffering Jesus - in him she found succour and hope. As she wrote in a letter: “When Jesus tells us about his Father, we distrust him. When he shows us his Home, we turn away, but when he confides to us that he is ‘acquainted with Grief’, we listen, for that is also an Acquaintance of our own.”


Pam 09.23.10 at 8:29 am

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.
(I’m starting to sound like dh, quoting Bible verses. I think I need a holiday! South Australia here I come).


dh 09.23.10 at 5:27 pm

Pam, you shouldn’t be ashamed of quoting God’s Word. There is power in His Word and the passage you quoted that I just read was like a “bolt of lightening from the Holy Spirit”. Thanks so much for the mentioning of this wonderful passage.

Tim, thanks for the generosity and further insight. I totally see what you are saying. Many times the “hug” is the most important. While it is easy to be mad at the friends, and Scripture rebukes them in other passages, they at least were silent for 7 days which shows there “somewhat care”. I will add though that while they gave the theological answers, they didn’t go through all of the theological possibilities like a vin diagram aka: have you sinned?, are you being tested by God?, Is this just a satanic attack?, Is this just a situation from the fall?, Is this God disiplining you? Is God just building character?, etc., etc. BEFORE (not being angry :) ) they spoke to Job. If the friends would have went deeper theologically before speaking they wouldn’t have spoke as you suggested they shouldn’t have done. They would have asked after hugging, caring and comforting Job asked, “Would you be interested in digging deeper at all of the known possibilities before being deciding that the answer is solely on the other side of heaven?” I agree to a point on Emily but if we love and care for the person like Emily and after we have comforted over time the likes of Emily then wouldn’t be a lack of care after some time to not address in any way the theological issues that Scripture specifically gives as answers within the vin diagram concept of the many situations and possibilities for the struggles as humans we face. While the situations and possibilities are many they are not so infinate that it is impossible to find answers in any way.

Kim, you quoted this: ” When he shows us his Home, we turn away, but when he confides to us that he is ‘acquainted with Grief’, we listen, for that is also an Acquaintance of our own.”
While not all people are turned away by God showing us His home, we all can be drawn to Him and encouraged by the fact that God is “acquainted with Grief” aka Hebrews 4:15.

Man Pam, that Scripture is in my head strong. Wow that is a great verse. Thanks Pam, I just can’t get off that passage. :)

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