C.S. Lewis wrote this poem late in his life. It’s intriguing that the insightful author of Mere Christianity was so humbled by his ignorance of the One to whom he prayed. Lewis’ poem took me by surprise, and makes me wonder if I know enough of God to begin to grasp how little I know.
Maybe it is sufficient to know that He treasures our prayers, and that He takes our feeble words, expressed so badly in a hodge-podge language full of ambiguity and confusion, and translates them into a “sweet-smelling aroma.”
He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian * fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.
*Pheidius was the sculptor of the gigantic idol of Zeus at Olympia.
“LORD, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Set a watch , O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.” Psalm 141:1-2
“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” 1 Peter 3: 12
“And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. and the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:3-4