Literary DCGD #28: A Prayer

July 21, 2013 | no comments
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Despair is, I think, one of the most difficult parts of the human condition. While the sources of our despair today are very different from those suffered by the early saints, the feelings are just as real and difficult. Where do we turn for peace? The following poem explores the despair we all feel—the same discussed in Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson #28—and provides an answer to it.

I recently learned from Sarah Reed that the author of the poem is actually Marie Miller Johnson,  a long-time resident of Richfield, Utah who used the pseudonym Ruby Lamont throughout her life. Born in October 1863, at age 11 she became the town’s first telegraph operator, and later its first telephone operator. She married William Johnson and raised 5 children in Richfield, all while writing poetry for various LDS publications and working for women’s suffrage. By the 1890s two of her poems were included in the LDS hymnals (O that my soul in joy might meet and Sweet friend of the needy, kind helper of youth), but both were dropped from the hymnal before the 1950 edition. In 1900 she moved to Salt Lake City and in 1915 to California, where she compiled a volume of her poetry, The soul’s language, that was published in 1925. During her life she also compiled a library of several hundred volumes, no small feat for a girl from Richfield Utah. Johnson passed away in California in 1939.

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A Prayer

by Ruby Lamont

Hear me, O God!
Dark the waves of doubt roll o’er me,
Blinding faith, o’erthrowing trust;
Though I sin, still, Father, hear me,
Hear my cry who am but dust-
Thou who still’st the tempest wild,
Oh! have mercy on thy child;
Still my fears, control my will,
Bid my passions “Peace, be still!”
Hear me, my God!

 

Dark fears arise!
Though I wish to do Thy bidding,.
I yet linger by the way;
Others are the bright prize winning
Of the fair Celestial Day,
Must my soul be darkened e’er-
Shall I win that sweet prize ne’er?
Teach, Oh! teach me, God, to pray;
Guide me safely on Thy way!
Help me be wise.

 

Hear, Father, hear!
Turn not away,
Hear me this once,
Hear while I pray!

 

Give me thine aid
Through life to be
True to Thy Kingdom,
Faithful to Thee.

 

Let not the darkness
Of doubt or fear
E’er overcome me-
Hear, Father, hear!

 

Help, Father, help!
Thou who once gave
Thine Only Begotten,
Hear, help and save!

 

Thus simply sang a woman once, who, doubting, still did trust,
And hope, and pray to our Father, who is merciful and just.
Was the lone one turned unanswered from the altar of her prayer?
Judge ye who oft have plead at that altar sweet and fair.
For though we may be weary of temptations and of strife,
Though our spirits may be darkened to the things of future life,
Though our hearts may sadly falter, even when we do our best,
Ne’er forget that in yon Heaven He will give the righteous rest.

The Contributor 5 (1883-1884), p. 49.

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I think the poem’s unusual structure actually supports the message, giving longer, more detailed lines when the speaker is initially suffering, and shorter, more urgent lines later, when the speaker is suffering and feels no response. It also highlight’s the distance the woman feels when the explanation of how to find rest only comes in the end, not to the lady who is speaking initially, but in an explanation from the poet. Even then, the explanation isn’t that the woman will eventually find peace in this life, but rather that the rest she is seeking will come after this life.

Suffering is sometimes like this, I think. We seek answers and relief, but it doesn’t always come. As the poet states, whether we will ever get an answer is sometimes an open question: “Was the lone one turned unanswered from the altar of her prayer?”

It originates often in the four sources that the poet mentions: doubt, sin, comparison with others and fear—and these four often lead to despair. But, of course, suffering can also come from other sources also, many of which we have no responsibility for. I think that the poet is correct in suggesting that often, after all, the best we can do is to remember “that in yon Heaven He will give the righteous rest.”

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