Oh, What Is Prayer?

Oh, what is prayer? Is it a mystery,
that bridges earth and heaven in a cry,
that reaches to the infinite? A sigh,
A groan, a whisper, tears that come to be
admixed from faith and high anxiety
or deep recesses of the soul. Whereby
the being arches up, and in, to try
to touch omnipotence with probity.

But sometimes silence follows all the din
of many fears and questions and requests;
and sometimes there is nothing in return,
or yet at least it seems this way. Within
the quake and hard unknowing fully rests
desire yet: to seek, and burn, and yearn.



Where Is the Fire?

Where is the fire that once burned so bright?
Where is the eager faith that I once had?
Where is the happiness, where I was glad
To share my Lord and know Him in His light?
I once had so much energy of heart,
And fervor that my light would shine to all,
And confidence in what’s the Christian’s call,
But now His grace and I are far apart.

It seems that all is dead and gone. No more
Do embers and the burning flames grow high
Or deep within me. Emptiness abounds,
And dryness. Oh, the Lord that I adore,
Or did adore— oh, are you far, or nigh?
My lack perplexes, saddens, and confounds.



The Prayers of Youth

The prayers of youth begin with fervent heat,
And all the passions of a lover’s love,
And all the ardor of an earnest, sweet,
Excited faith, transcendent from above.

But as we age, our prayers, liked finest wine
Grow dry but complex. Nothing like before,
But staying steady on. Oh, where is mine,
The fires of my youth, oh, where the store

Of heat and passion, that seems now so dead?
It is more even now. Not without fire,
Just more an ember, which maintains instead
And makes a glow and warmth out of desire.

Oh, keep me on the warm and lighted way,
That you might fan me when I go astray.



Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, a sonnet chapbook, and her third book of poetry, entitled Longer Thoughts, which has just been released by Shanti Arts. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Religion and Intellectual Life, the Midwest Poetry Review, Leaf Magazine, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin, and the Society of Classical Poets. Her website is www.bardsinger.com.

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13 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    In “Where Is the Fire”” you need another foot in line 10. An extra word would do it, such as

    Do embers and the burning flames grow high

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you very much, Dr. Salemi, for pointing that out. I’ll ask Evan to amend it.

      • James A. Tweedie

        And, unless I am mistaken, in “O, What Is Prayer?” There are opening iambs missing in lines 11 & 12 and a foot in line 13.

        Regardless, these are lovely, heartfelt, reflective poems, reminiscent of the Psalms, and of Christ’s self-identification with the prophetic figure in Psalm 22.

      • Theresa Rodriguez

        James, you are absolutely right, thank you for pointing these errors out.

        The sestet in “Oh, what is prayer?” could now read:

        But sometimes silence follows all the din
        of many fears and questions and requests;
        and sometimes there is nothing in return,
        or yet at least it seems this way. Within
        the quake and hard unknowing fully rests
        desire yet: to seek, and burn, and yearn.

        Thank you again James for having eyes where I did not see!

  2. J. C. MacKenzie

    Reducing prayer to sighing, whispering, groaning, crying, etc., does not edify. The binary axes passion/emptiness, warmth/dryness, and the like, relate to the author’s real of fictive conflict which can only be tangential to the prayer in its essence. Whether the conflict is real or borrowed is immaterial—I have the same difficulty with John Donne’s pseudo-spiritual “problem.”

    Only Evangelicals, in my opinion, need to be “fanned” or “wound up” (to the point of shaking or quaking and such).

    Prayer is an application of the mind to the things of heaven. An act of the virtue of religion whose purpose is to render God the worship due to Him as the source of all being and the principle of all government of things. the constitutive parts of prayer are many and interesting, including the acknowledgement of one’s dependence on God.

    These poems are centered, unfortunately, on the subject.

    In consideration of the Church’s Sacred Doctrine on prayer, these verses lack dimension and substance, in my humble opinion.

    • Mike Bryant

      I prefer to let God decide which prayer is pleasing to Him. You may believe that you are the font of all knowledge when it comes to the Most High, but I assure you that you are NOT God Himself.

  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below …” is an observation about what is not prayer, but it is also a pertinent admission on the part of a dramatic character about himself. And, it should be added, it is not simply a matter of that character’s being more interesting than we because he is from WS’s mind.
    There must be plenty of profound prayers (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross?) on the subject of the writer’s spiritual dryness.

  4. Margaret Coats

    A thoughtful group of sonnets appearing at just the right time for those beginning the Novena to the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I will be back to consider them–especially the first–again.

  5. C.B. Anderson


    I didn’t notice any missing feet; perhaps the corrections have already been made. And I loved the sentiments expressed in these sonnets. If Mr. MacKenzie is correct in his view that prayer has little or nothing to do with sentiment, even then, I, myself, am content to let God, Himself, sort things out.

    And, Mike Bryant, MacKenzie knows well that he is not God. That’s his entire point! If his position seems a bit less liberal than your own, then perhaps you are due for a self-inquisition.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      C.B., I am so pleased that you loved the sentiments expressed in the sonnets! Thank you for your comments.


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