I pray with the animals
I’m at a loss for the words this early in the morning, sitting as I am at the gate waiting for a plane to bring me home and away. Those lines have blurred, God, I think half-heartedly, and I am impatient for the days when it is no longer the slow waltz of leaving and arriving, the dance outside terminals and in airport parking lots and along the back roads of Newburyport and The Woodlands. I am impatient for the hands clasped, for the dishes drying in my hands and the soft hum as we waltz through the night laced in each other’s arms. Impatient, I grip the pen tighter, ask for the right words, ask for the prayer.
But I don’t know how to put this in words flung up to God this morning as August begins, and my words flee from me the moment I lower my eyelids in the ordinary, obedient way. The fear of leaving, the joy of arriving, they crowd in and I hesitate.
I remember that I brought the book with me at just this moment – a ghost of a whisper to remember that Carmen Bernos de Gasztold offered prayers, those of the lark and the bee and the old, tired camel. I crack the spine slightly in my haste, smooth the pages with my fingertips. The flight attendants call those who need to board with small children - but aren’t I just such a child? - and I read.
The Prayer of the Foal
O God! the grass is so young!
My hooves are full of capers.
why does this terror start up in me?
and my mane catches the wind.
and Your scents beat on my heart.
falling over my own feet in my joy,
because my eyes are too big
and I am their prisoner:
eyes too quick to seize
on the uneasiness that runs through the whole world.
when the strange night
prowls round the edge of day,
let Yourself be moved by my plaintive whinny;
set a star to watch over me
and hush my fear.
I was only seven or eight when I first wanted a horse. My grandfather in England gave me The Very Best Book of Horses and I read it so much my fingers smudged the ink of the headings, wore the pictures to almost nothing with my fingers tracing the outline of the girls in their riding outfits and English saddles. I met a pony once in a field in England, an old white one with grey spots scattered on her body, more from age than a dappled beginning. I fed her sweet grass slowly from the palm of my hand, and just once, Dad let me touch her nose. I startled as I felt her breathe, my hand calmed by her slowness, my heart hushed by her deep eyes.
When I was trying to explain my fear to her in the dark of the upstairs in the student center, on the chairs we always sat in when it was that kind of conversation, I told her I was like a horse. Steady and skittish, born at once with gravity and with wild movement. I was afraid, and eager. I felt God ripple through my heart like the zephyrs in late spring here, which trace the edge of the water, but I was scared, running for the hills, afraid of such closeness. I was always eager and afraid.
And then, that winter night I wandered through the bookcases in the attic, searching for the old story, for “If it’s a colt you want, I’ll give you Starlight” - for Almanzo and Eliza Jane and Royal, for the Christmas and the schoolyard and the year that Dad first read me the story out loud. I found our hardcopy sitting in between other old and musty books, remembering how I, like Almanzo, had always wanted a colt, how I had wanted a farm like his and to build a sled and train two cows, Star and Bright, and plow my way through waist-deep snow into school. I remember being lost in the story, in the somehow realness of it, just because I knew how much Almanzo had wanted a horse, for I wanted one too.
I read the prayer on the plane again and again, closing my eyes only to open them again. I remember how God cherishes the creation of the animals, how He teaches us to love them in Adam’s naming. I remember how it is good to imagine the conversations they must have with God, for this whole earth is bursting with songs back to the Creator. Right before we land, I write:
Dear Lord, may I ever remember how Your creatures, wild and tamed, young and old, yield their life as praise of their being, of Your creating. May I give the same praise lark-like and with the canter of the horse, for all that You give. For Yours is the world. And Yours the glory. Amen.