About a year ago, I rented for the weekend a tiny house that hangs out over a mountainside, with a view of the sea. Until then, I’d never traveled for the purpose of spending an entire weekend alone. I decided to do it as a writing retreat (more on that here, if you like.)
I certainly did write, more even than expected, because I did not sleep. A storm was rollicking up and over the Oregon coast that weekend, with sustained winds in the 45mph zone, and regular gusts in the 60s. Between the physical impact of that much wind shaking my little home (which remained snug, but constantly screamed its protests), and what turned out to be improperly secured patio chairs slamming around on the deck, I was up all night scribbling, in bed or at the tiny fold-down table.
Something else I wanted to do was pray. That’s an action you can take for comfort when you’re alone and afraid, right? But in spite of a lifetime of religious identity and practice, prayer by myself has never felt accessible or helpful. I’ve made plenty of concerted attempts, long-term and short. The closest I’ve yet come is my (more recent) contemplative practice, which is mostly walking, or sitting in silence, and greeting what I see, feel, and otherwise experience, until I just dissolve into that experience and don’t have to think anymore. (This is, incidentally, similar to the way I experience communal prayer, and why I so enjoy liturgy in church.)
So I tried to pray, and it felt weird. Inauthentic, somehow. I was terrified half out of my mind; how could I be anything but real and raw in that moment? I couldn’t, I guess, which is why I…started writing a prayer. I guess composing and shaping, with my hands, something from my heart that is ultimately visible, felt authentic in a way that rambling in my head to an unknowable Mystery did not.
What I wrote that night (among other things, but this one I kept returning to, repeating it – praying it?) was the first draft of a poem I would decide to call Prayer for my Solitude, in a Wild Place Not Home.
Much later, I sent it off to a little hand-printed quarterly poetry journal that’s been around since 1958, called Time of Singing. TOS is “a literary Christian poetry magazine with ‘Christian’ defined in the widest sense of the word.” Since that’s about how I define my own Christianity (there’s a bare hint of explanation here, for those interested), I felt some resonance.
Small miracle: they did, too. And just yesterday I received in the mail my first-ever contributor’s copy of a print magazine in which my own words appear. It’s an incredible feeling.
The text in the picture may be a little hard to read for some, so here’s the poem in full.
(I’d love a little feedback if you’ve the inclination, specifically about the title. I’ve since renamed: A Prayer for my Solitude, in a Wild Place Unknown. Does that change how you read it? Does one title fit better than the other?)
A Prayer for My Solitude, in a Wild Place Not Home
I am not sure what to make of this place.
I am not sure what to make of my self.
I am not sure
what to make
Let me, within this unaccustomed refuge, seek my true,
my still, small voice.
Let me take into my hands important questions,
stroking them, as beloved pets, with familiar, honest care.
Walking soft, with calm intent, as toward a wild being.
Shedding by the wayside, irony.
Abandoning that selfishness, defense.
As gales from the south unsmooth the water’s nap,
let me stand and face them, call the winds to me.
They’re coming anyway.
Certainly, I will not be free from fear.
Let me have courage.