"Pray for Peace" by Ellen Bass

(This month's Food for Thought is the poem "Pray for Peace" by the poet Ellen Bass. We are grateful to our friend Rev. Paul Dodenhoff of the UU on the Palisades in Englewood, New Jersey for bringing it to our attention during a sermon on Prayer.)

Pray to whoever you kneel down to:

Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross,

his suffering face bent to kiss you,

Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,

Adonai, Allah, raise your arms to Mary

that she may lay her palm on our brows,

to Shekinhah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,

to Inanna in her stripped descent.


Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper

of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down

to terriers and shepherds and siamese cats.

Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.


Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,

pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus

and for everyone riding buses all over the world.

If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,

climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.


Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,

for your latté and croissant, offer your plea.

Make your eating and drinking a supplication.

Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,

each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.


Make the brushing of your hair

a prayer, every strand its own voice,

singing in the choir on your head.

As you wash your face, the water slipping

through your fingers, a prayer: Water,

softest thing on earth, gentleness

that wears away rock.


Making love, of course, is already a prayer.

Skin and open mouths worshipping that skin,

the fragile case we are poured into,

each caress a season of peace.


If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.

Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.

Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.


When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,

to the video store, let each step

be a prayer that we all keep our legs,

that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.

Or crush their skulls.

And if you are riding on a bicycle

or a skateboard, in a wheel chair, each revolution

of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves

we will do less harm, less harm, less harm.


And as you work, typing with a new manicure,

a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail

or delivering soda or drawing good blood

into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard

with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas, pray for peace.


With each breath in, take in the faith of those

who have believed when belief seemed foolish,

who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.


Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,

feed the birds for peace, each shiny seed

that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.

Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.


Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.

Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child

around your VISA card. Gnaw your crust

of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.

Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling

your prayer through the streets.