The Real Prayer
by Achsa White Sprague
I stood within a shadowy-aisled
Cathedral, vast and dim,
And listened to the organ's tone,
Like a perpetual hymn.
'Twas not the time for service grand,
When thousands gather there;
Only a few, with stricken hearts,
Bent low in silent prayer.
The pictures on the walls were works
Of some great master hand,
And bade the solemn past return,
Like famed magician's wand.
And what a heaven was in the eye
And face, upturned, divine,
Of that Madonna! Could one help
But bow at such a shrine?
And, oh, the agony of him --
The Christ upon the tree!
I turned away, -- too much, too much
Like stern reality.
And saint and martyr, bearing rack
And torture for
O'er all the walls; enough it seemed
The heart well-nigh to break.
I looked again at those in prayer,
Who knows the heart?
Those pictures, like reality,
Are but the works of art;
And may not these be pictured prayers, --
The essence passed away, --
Devotion's form without the soul,
The worshippers to-day?
I paused in thought, and said,
Religion, tell me where?
When through the open door there came
An answer to my prayer:
A ragged little errand-boy,
With bundle in his hand,
Walked silently, and knelt him down
Where I had dared to stand.
He dropped the bundle by his side,
And crossed his hands in prayer,
And lifted up his little face,
A living picture there.
And what an earnest, speaking face!
How eloquent the form!
Face, form, and ragged garments said,
God shield me from the storm.
Madonna, saint, and martyr-face,
Faded like mist away.
The past be with the past, I said;
Devotion lives to-day!
That look of earnest, trusting faith,
No hypocrite may wear:
This poor, lone, friendless, kneeling child --
The very soul of prayer!
Day after day I've seen them kneel;
Long prayers I've often heard;
But never one like that to me, --
That prayer without a word.
And when I weary of the guilt
That in devotions share,
I think of that young worshipper,
And still keep faith in prayer.
Source:The Poet And Other Poems.
Boston: William White And Co.,
158 Washington Street.