From the depths of my cowl

Sep 27, 2019 | INSIGHTS

In ‘The Choice,’ (p134-5, Hodder and Stoughton) Sister Kirsty, a novice nun, tells of the psychologically damaging effect it was having on her to be constantly coming face to face with stories of great cruelty in the things she read and heard – especially when she heard tales of cruelty to children. A saintly old monk she consulted about the agony of spirit she so often felt in prayer withdrew deep into his cowl and remained silent for a long time before encouraging her to stop reading newspapers and watching the news for a whole year.

This shrewd and prayerful man knew that we do not necessary to be aware of every horrible detail of what is happening in the world in order to pray for it effectively. From deep within the depths of his cowl, he could bring it all to the Lord, confident that this would move His hand to act.

As one who has sought for many decades to bring news events, items and analyses from around the world to people’s attention, in order to translate them into prayer, this is advice that some of us may wish to take to heart and to bear in mind. From without our ‘cowl’ – our hidden place with the Lord, we can all pray: ‘Your Kingdom come, Lord, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, amongst the nations and in the heart of Your Church.’ We don’t need to know and understand all the details to be able to pray in accordance with His will.

It is also helpful to take one person, place or situation to the Lord as being representative of many – rather as when I go on retreat I do so to be with my friends in spirit as well as with the Lord, and to pray on behalf of those who are in special need.

Let’s use this very brief prayer poem as a starter for bringing our own prayers and petitions to the Lord, continuing in prayer where the words and music leave off. The music that accompanies this prayer-poem is from Sergei Rachmaninov’s Great Ektenia. ‘Ektenia’ simply means Litany – that is, a series of petitions in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine churches.

From deep within my cowl

Hooded by Your hand,
hidden deep within my cowl,
travelling far in spirit
from my regular routine ways,
in prayer, O God, I seek to move Your hand.

In the depths of my cowl
I have no need to hear the full-blown tale
of the awfulness that snares and befouls.
This I trust, that in these heart-felt pleas,
that stem from bended knees –
You will discern the tenor of Your own petition
for blocked and beleaguered souls.

Offered on the altar of my heart, in the temple of my soul,
make of these cries from one enclosed within,
Incense that rises before Your throne,a wider template
that tips the bowl to pour afar Your presence and Your aid.

On a completely different level I was also inspired by two Old Irish poems. The first that describes the ideal abode of a hermit set apart to seek the Lord, while the second celebrates the close affinity between a hermit scholar and his cat, both remain intent on their work!


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