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Prayers Before Faith
and when the fire of faith has cooled.
What happens to prayers uttered when the fire of faith has cooled? Is it possible they could echo through the transformation of a soul, becoming in time litanies practiced in faith?
Prayers Before Faith
by Lee Kiblinger
Originally published by Calla Press on September 6, 2022. Used with permission of the author.
Are prayers before faith phrases falling, mist-like, evaporating to the ground — waves of words echoed empty, hollow, voiced but lost, just unheard sound? Are cries crammed into cardboard boxes, never opened in attics of dust — pleas planted as seeds of what-ifs in deserts windblown by sandy trust? Do they move molecular, atoms combining waiting for rising, concussive heat — or hang like stars, with hope aligning that forecast victory or herald defeat? Do they come of age and ripen like wild berries full of sweetened juice — or are words wrapped up, cocoon-like, until they warm, and then fly loose? Their holding pattern is a mystery, still their wonder will incubate — past utterance to future litany, learned, rehearsed after timeless wait.
Lee Kiblinger is a mother of three beautiful teenagers, a literature and writing instructor, and in her words, a late-blooming poet. In “Prayers Before Faith” she asks powerful and probing questions to envision and better understand the nature of the “prayers” of one without a faith where they can land. Do these just fall flat, and are they useless? Meaningless? Or could it be these prayers are heard and held? Is it possible they could echo through the transformation of a soul and become in time the very litanies practiced in faith?
If this weren’t thought-provoking enough, Lee’s work here is made even more rich by a second meaning possible for “prayers before faith.” What happens to the prayers of a person who is guided by faith, but prays in the midst of a distinct lack of that faith? In other words, what happens to prayers uttered when the fire of faith has cooled, and in seasons of wondering and questioning?
This second reading is particularly poignant for me, and is the reason I first took an interest in this poem of Lee’s*. Having gone through my own seasons of questioning, “Prayers Before Faith” hits close to home. What comes of the prayers I spoke during these challenging times? What of the longings and the breakings of my heart when my faith was low? Were they heard? Or were they as useless as they felt, merely “phrases falling / mist-like, evaporating to the ground” and “waves of words echoed empty, hollow”?
Now to be clear, I believe these cries are heard. We are told we are not alone in our achings, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”1 Yet the experience of feeling “voiced but lost, just unheard sound” is not always so easily dismissed, and what of that? In my experience at least, navigating such seasons of life is much less like finding and flipping the light-switch of a quick answer, but more like finding a torch to carry in the dark until sunrise.
In a beautiful irony, “Prayers Before Faith” is a demonstration of faith in itself, for this is not a set of beliefs but “confidence in what we hope for, and assurance of what we do not see.”2 Like the Psalms, this poem openly asks hard questions the human experience can beg: “Are cries crammed into cardboard boxes / never opened in attics of dust…?” Are deaf ears all that await our prayers? Will anything come of these words?
But far from leaving us in that sense of isolation and abandonment, Lee goes on with new images to remind us that a prayer is not unheard simply because it is not answered in the way we wished, or right away. These prayers are “atoms combining / waiting for rising, concussive heat”; cocooned beauties-to-be. We are heard, and answers always come — if not always in the way we expect.
For the season of doubt, the hope in Lee’s poem is tangible and grounding. Even in “deserts windblown by sandy trust”, we can know our prayers are seeds planted which will “come of age and ripen / like wild berries full of sweetened juice.” Their holding pattern — how exactly God works with them — may be a mystery, but it remains a holding pattern: an anticipation of fulfillment, pregnant with hope even in the depths of debilitating lows.
And seeds planted in such hope cannot help but grow. After all, it is not we who watch over them.
*You can find more of Lee’s great work at ripplesoflaughter.com.
Hebrews 4:15 (NIV).