George Herbert on Prayer (19)
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? Psalm 15.1
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
- George Herbert
In George Herbert’s day the Milky Way would have represented the “border” of the cosmos. Beyond that creamy belt of stars, visible on clear nights as a milky streak from horizon to horizon, no created thing existed. Beyond the Milky Way was only – God.
So it’s quite likely that the Milky Way was thought as the “heavens” so frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, and perhaps even the place where God, angels, and departed saints communed in glory. If so, then prayer, George Herbert seemed to think, would be the vehicle to get us there, if only imperfectly, in the here and now of our lives.
Prayer is the “milky way”, George Herbert mused. It is a heaven-sent gift that allows us to be transported out of our merely mundane existence into the actual dwelling-place and throne room of God. In prayer we leave behind our earthly environs and enter the realm of spirits. Our posture changes. Our language changes. Our entire outlook on life changes as we view ourselves from the position of being seated at the right hand of God with Jesus Christ (Eph. 2.6). We join with saints and angels in their vernacular, praising, thanking, supplicating, and interceding with our heavenly King. We see ourselves and our lives as Jesus does, from a height of eternal purpose and glory. From that prospect all the little, troublesome details, duties, and distractions of life become trifling matters. We focus on broader horizons, longer vistas, and eternal undertakings. As we do, traveling the Milky Way of prayer across the dark night of our sinful age, we feel our souls expanded, our hopes made more secure, our purpose clarified, and our strength renewed.
Certainly, at the end of prayer, we return to this world and all its “immediate evils” (Lewis). But as we do, we retain a link to the heavenly places, and to the throne room of Christ, through the medium of prayer, our spiritual Milky Way and eternal home.
Next steps: In your prayer, envision yourself talking with the Father, through our Lord Jesus, seated at His right hand in heavenly places. From there, look out on your everyday life. Does it seem to you somehow different? Share this experience with a Christian friend.
T. M.’s books on prayer include God’s Prayer Program, a guide to learning how to pray the psalms; The Psalms for Prayer, in which all the psalms are set up to guide you in how to pray them; and If Men Will Pray, a serious attempt to call men of faith to greater diligence in prayer. Follow the links provided here to purchase these from our online store.