“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible to speak a few reasonable words.” –Goethe

John Donne and Distracted Prayer

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Last night as I was praying, with my ever wandering mind, a fly buzzing around me further interrupted my concentration. Immediately I thought of John Donne’s words as they echoed my experience. I can’t remember how, or if, I finished this particular prayer, but I was comforted in the fact that even the great 16-17th century metaphysical poet and clergyman could find himself distracted while communing with his maker. And I am ever grateful for a patient God.


I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in, and invite God, and his Angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door; I talk on in the same posture of praying, eyes lifted up, knees bowed down, as though I prayed to God; and if God or his angels should ask me when I thought last of God in that prayer, I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I had forgot what I was about, but when I began to forget it I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday’s pleasures, a fear of tomorrow’s dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a light in mine eye, an anything, a nothing, a fancy, a chimera in my brain troubles me in my prayer.

-John Donne

This Sunday morning I find myself home from church service with a sick child and have been reading some of Donne’s Holy Sonnets (something I haven’t done for years–and probably wouldn’t have done for years more without this impromptu block of time). These sonnets are full of death and fire and brimstone, but life and love are triumphant throughout. Here I will share the first:

THOU hast made me, and shall Thy work decay ?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste ;
I run to death, and Death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday.
I dare not move my dim eyes any way ;
Despair behind, and Death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh.
Only Thou art above, and when towards Thee
By Thy leave I can look, I rise again ;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour myself I can sustain.
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.


Adamant refers to any particularly hard substance, like diamonds or metal. Yes, I had to look this up–I had no idea what the last line meant. In the middle ages, it’s meaning evolved and was commonly used to mean a kind of magnet,  which makes sense of this final metaphor. God’s love as a magnet pulling an iron heart (man’s weakness and or sin is how I interpreted it) is an unusual image, yet incredibly powerful. He draws us to Him, He repairs us and is our protector from death and “the foe.”

Well, that’ll do for my worship today.


One thought on “John Donne and Distracted Prayer

  1. Love it Alyson. I have always admired your love of learning, studying and analyzing things that are good and uplifting and true. Suuuuuuuuure love ya!

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