The Word That Is a Prayer
by Ellery Akers
One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.
from Practicing the Truth © Autumn House Press, 2015
Reprinted with Permission. Buy now
The Japanese believe that certain words, if repeated, slowly gain power and can affect not only the environment, but also our bodies, minds and souls. Their term for this is kotodama, which means literally “spirit of language” or “sacred sound.” This force seems to be exactly what Ellery Akers describes as she refers to what we are told from an early age is a “magic word”: Please. I have to confess that I don’t know much about what prayer is supposed to be, and because I was not raised in a specific spiritual tradition, my own view of the practice of prayer tends to be rather expansive. For me, it can be working in the garden, watching a leaf caught in the updraft of passing cars or feeling the sun on my face as I wait for the bus. But the best definition of prayer I’ve found comes from Anne Lamott’s wonderful book, Help Thanks Wow: ” . . . prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold.”
I can think of no better word than please with which to reach out to whatever source of light we find close at hand. Though “so short/ it could get lost in the air/ as it floats up to God like the feather it is,” please—like any spur-of-the-moment prayer—can bring relief when we say it from a place of need or honesty. As Akers and Lamott both imply, perhaps the best part of prayer is the way it can make us feel less alone and more connected to each other. Because each of us is asking for essentially the same thing—to be happy and free from suffering—”we know that all over the earth people are saying it” right along with us, lending strength and power to that common word we use every day.