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Prayer 71

Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart


Now let us turn to the happy and glorified ranks
of the saints,
some of whom stumbled slightly but were steadied,
some who doubted a bit but were enlightened
by the radiant purity of the Holy Spirit,
thus exhibiting the faults of the ordinary humans
on the one hand, while on the other,
the ways and virtues of angels,
transcending the laws of nature.

And now, those who are blessed
by the divine mouth of our Father Christ,1
commanding all alike, the chosen, celebrated, adored, and praised,
who are worshiped as members of the body of Christ
and who are prepared as temples of the Holy Spirit,2
in whom there is no hint of darkness,
but who are instead completely guileless
and glow with righteousness
and are godly as much as humans can be:
their faces are open and unashamed,
their piety uplifting and intrepid,
their lives sober and irreproachable,
their worship stalwart and unwavering,
their ways courageous and unflagging,
their truth uniform and unshakable,
their valor strong and indomitable,
their vision is bright and unconfused,
their wisdom is heavenly and invincible,
their image is clean and incorruptible.
By their examples and in the memory of their names
God taught us to pray and3
through them find help amid troubles,
as your word, Creator, teaches.4


But I am unworthy in all things,
and fail, as much as I try.
Although I am awake, I dream.
Although I seem alert, I am dazed.
While worshiping, I blaspheme.
While praying I err.
In my work I balk.
While seeking forgiveness I sin.
In my resting, I am restless,
While advancing, I retreat.5
When I walk, I walk backwards.6
To the light, I bring darkness.7
To sweet flavors, I add the bitterness of absinthe.
Into the warp of goodness, I weave the woof of evil.
After being lifted up, I stumble again.
I blossom, but do not bear fruit.
I speak and do not act.8
I promise but do not perform.
I make vows I do not fulfill.
I reach out but pull back.
I display but do not offer.
I bring forth but do not give.
While tending my wounds I reopen them.9
While reconciling I cause friction.
I complain without cause and am justly condemned.
I am enrolled and immediately removed.
I set sail and immediately lose course.
I set out and do not reach the harbor.
I poise myself and yet I fall.
I am filled and yet drained dry.
I am put in order here and fall apart there.
I am gathered here and set afire there.10
I lay a foundation but do not finish building.11
I gain little and waste thousands.
I save almost nothing and spend without end.
I give others advice I do not practice.
I study constantly but never learn the truth.12
Even when the evil is extinguished I keep stoking it.
I take heart a bit, then feel yet more abandoned.
I gear up and then as quickly slacken.
I patch this and rip that.
I pull up nettles and sow thorns.
I try to ascend and am dragged down.
I go to the nest as a dove and come out a crow.
I arrive almost white and leave totally black.
I pledge myself to you and then dedicate myself
to an assassin.
I face forward but turn back.13


I am cleansed but am covered with soot.
I am washed but am soiled just the same.
I pretend to be David and act like Saul.
I mouth truths and lie in my heart.14
I give with my right hand but steal with my left.
I cultivate wheat but sow tares.15
I have retreated from the heights of wisdom and become as I was.
I put on the face of an angel but have the mind of a devil.
I am steady on my feet but wavering in my mind.
I confess my shortcomings falsely but really err.
I feign righteousness but am truly false.
I pretend to be in the choir of the meek but strut
with the demons.
I am praised by humans but reproached by you,
all-seeing God.
I am blessed among the earthly but
pitiful among the children of light.
I am pleasing to the most vulgar but have fallen
from your eyes, great king.
I flee your just tribunal but plea before the impious.
I reject the noble but cavort with the repulsive.
I dress my body up with finery
but my soul in spotted feathers of a jay.16
I approach to make a pact but I am rejected as a traitor.
Today I am pure and filled with the Spirit
but tomorrow I am a crazed fool.
I disobeyed the Lord’s commandments but
followed the serpent’s suggestions.17
I became high and mighty but submitted like a weakling.
I bear the burdens of the day but leave
without my portion at pay time.18
I talk big at a distance but am nonplussed when
called to account.
At sunrise I appear prosperous and at sunset I loiter empty-handed.
I sit upon the elder’s chair but take counsel from fools.19
I fall asleep complaining and awake in terror.
I plough the fields of my desires with special
care for evil.

I who am
ever the prodigal son,
banished forever, unrepentant, wayward,
inconsolably dejected, in self-imposed captivity,
servant of death and corruption,
mercilessly tormented, condemned
       beyond salvation,
cut off beyond rejoining, extinguished
       beyond resuscitation,
bruised beyond healing, destroyed
       beyond hope of the next life.
And if sterner reproaches than these are needed
against my unruly soul,
I hereby commit them to writing,
I heap them like kindling
to fuel the flames of Hell.20

I am the jealous offspring of the new heavenly Adam
as Cain was in the first instance toward the old and earthly Adam.
And in this world I bear upon my soul the
mark of blame,21 not with the respiration of breath, but
through the wordy torment of my conscience.


And where is salvation now?
Now when the father of faith, Abraham, in our
       desperate damnation, turns my cruelty in life back
       on my soul after death? 22
When the great prophets stone me with the
       harsh words? 23
When the brave one adorned in glory, kills me
       with the thrust of a javelin? 24
When the image of the true Lord wipes me from
       the face of the earth with Achor? 25
When the most sublime of God’s chosen delivers me
       to the vengeance of the Gibeonites? 26
When the seer born of the prophet slays me
       before the Lord with the Amalakites? 27
When the zealot of God lays waste
       with fire from heaven?
When the consummation of the dim images of the old covenant and the herald of the new covenant
       pours upon us the winnowing of the chaff? 28
When the chief of the disciples takes my life
       with Sapphira’s? 29
When the one judged admirable by the Holy Spirit
       mixes the savor of death with teaching of life? 30
Meanwhile, the assembly of the blessed are
indifferent to me, both angel and human,
those valiant forces poised to obey God’s command,
the universe of the world, and the elements,
the inanimate and the living,
by whom I am forever scolded and condemned
and reminded of terrors to come
unsettling the tranquility and stability of my life
like waves whipped by storms.

And if one were to study with wisdom
the diverse sea creatures
from the smallest to the largest,
countless without number
swarming in infinite schools, bustling
and gliding this way and that through
the sea of my body, the truth of all
I have written would be confirmed.


But you yourself blessed, immortal king,
kind, heavenly Christ, who loves mankind,
only-begotten Son of the living God,
almighty exalted beyond understanding,
beyond telling, who pardons us, awesome God,
scold the undulating agitation of my soul
whipped up by the winter tempest,
calm the uncontrollable commotion in my troubled heart,
whip in the reins and subdue the wild urges of my mind.

By the grace of your command, O great God,
may the storm that constantly pelts me with
icy gusts be calmed.31
Put to rest and banish forever
the multi-headed ghosts of secret shame
which attack like pirates in their vulgar ways.
Consider my constant prayer
whose letters are written with ever
renewed compunction in this book of the sighs of my grieving heart.
Lift me out of the abyss of death’s depths
and grant me miraculous life among the
redeemed prophets.32
Receive my repentance, my self-reproaches
offered with savory smoke.
Console me, for I am out of hope,
and ease my afflictions and sighs.
To you with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
glory, honor and dominion forever.
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  1 ...... Mt. 25:34.

  2 ...... 1 Cor. 6:15-20.

  3 ...... Gen. 20:7

  4 ...... Job 42:8.

  5 ...... Phil. 3:13.

  6 ...... Lk. 9:62.

  7 ...... Lk. 11:35.

  8 ...... Lk. 23:3.

  9 ...... 2 Kg. 8:8-10.

  10 ...... Jn. 15:6.

  11 ...... Lk. 14:29.

  12 ...... 2 Tim. 3:7.

  13 ...... Jer. 2.27.

  14 ...... Is. 29:18.

  15 ...... Mt. 13:25.

  16 ...... Based on a fable about a bird that donned bright feathers for a ceremony only to be unmasked and recognized for the plain bird that it really was. Critical Edition, 1083, n. 7.

  17 ...... Gen. 2:17, 3:1-6.

  18 ...... Mt. 20:12.

  19 ...... 1 Kg. 12:6-11.

  20 ...... Jn. 15:6.

  21 ...... Gen. 4:4-15.

  22 ...... Lk. 16:19-25.

  23 ...... Ex. 32:21-29, referring to Moses.

  24 ...... Num. 25:7-8, referring to Phineas.

  25 ...... Jos. 7:23-26, referring to Joshua.

  26 ...... 2 Sam. 21:8-9, referring to David.

  27 ...... 1 Sam. 15:32-35, referring to Samuel.

  28 ...... Mt. 3:11-12, referring to John the Baptist; Is. 40:3, Mal. 3:1.

  29 ...... Acts 5:10, referring to Peter.

  30 ...... 2 Cor. 2:15-16, referring to Paul.

  31 ...... Mt. 8:26.

  32 ...... Jon. 2:10.