Lifesaving Poems: Michel Quoist’s ‘Thank you Lord, thank you’

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Thank you Lord, thank you.

Thank you for all the gifts that you have given me today,
Thank you for all I have seen, heard, received.

Thank you for the water that woke me up, the soap that smells good, the toothpaste that refreshes.
Thank you for the clothes that protect me, for their color and their cut.
Thank you for the newspaper so faithfully there, for the comics (my
morning smile), for the report of useful meetings, for justice done and for big games won.
Thank you for the street-cleaning truck and the men who run it, for their morning shouts and all the early noises.
Thank you for my work, my tools, my efforts.
Thank you for the metal in my hands, for the whine of the steel biting into it, for the satisfied look of the supervisor and the load of finished pieces.
Thank you for Jim who lent me his file, for Danny who gave me a cigarette, for Charlie who held the door for me.
Thank you for the welcoming street that led me there, for the shop windows, for the cars, for the passers-by, for all the life that flowed swiftly between the windowed walls of the houses.

Thank you for the food that sustained me, for the glass of beer that refreshed me.
Thank you for the car that meekly took me where I wanted to be, for the gas that made it go, for the wind that caressed my face and for the trees that nodded to me on the way.

Thank you for the boy I watched playing on the sidewalk opposite.
Thank you for his roller-skates and for his comical face when he fell.
Thank you for the morning greetings I received, and for all the smiles.
Thank you for the mother who welcomes me at home, for her tactful affection, for her silent presence.
Thank you for the roof that shelters me, for the lamp that lights me, for the radio that plays, for the news, for music and singing.
Thank you for the bunch of flowers, so pretty on my table.

Thank you for the tranquil night.
Thank you for the stars.
Thank you for the silence.

Thank you for the time you have given me.
Thank you for life.
Thank you for grace.

Thank you for being there, Lord.
Thank you for listening to me, for taking me seriously, for gathering my gifts in your hands to offer them to your Father.
Thank you, Lord.
Thank you.

-Michel Quoist, from Prayers

 

At school we had a headmaster who was particularly fond of reading us the work of Michel Quoist in assembly. The phrase ‘Michel Quoist’ entered our lexicon of insults as a kind of shorthand for anything that was in danger of being serious, worthy or boring. The subtext of our laughter was that Quoist’s work spoke about and was characterised by an unvarnished spirituality. The prayers (or were they poems?) we were read dared to merge meditations on everyday life with plain-speaking language as though God was in the next door room.

I was happy to go along with my friends and snigger ‘Michel Quoist’ under my breath during chapel, but in truth I was afraid that my headmaster might be right, that there was more to these words than met the eye. This was too much for me.

I was afraid of having my notion of God challenged. I wanted to keep him remote, distant and preferably angry. The idea of God being interested (and therefore non-judgemental) about sharing a cigarette with a co-worker, or enjoying a beer at the end of the day, seemed at once irrelevant and highly suggestive. I now see this as the point at which my virulently dualistic mindset began to shift and crack, a process I’m happy to say is still continuing now.

Nowadays we might say his prayers can be seen through the lens of the mindful tradition of awareness and knowledge, dating back at least as far as the Desert Fathers. But I didn’t know that then. Sometimes you come across what you need to know years before you are ready to apprehend it.

It’s odd to think that this began via the work of a humble French priest whose poems (or were they prayers?) had no designs on anything or anyone other than staying attuned to their rapt present moment of inclusiveness. In many ways they are partly responsible for forming part of what Heaney calls a kind of ‘linguistic hardcore’, preparing me, with hindsight, for the work of O’Hara, Koch, Schuyler, Williams (C.K. and W.C.) and Olds.

Years later I saw Michel Quoist being interviewed through an interpreter at a festival. Dressed entirely in black, he radiated simplicity and peace. Speaking in what felt like slow motion, I was amazed to keep up with his limpid French: ‘Le plus important chose,’ he said, ‘est de se brunir devant l’amour de Dieu.’ That remains for me as straightforward and suggestive now as it was then. A touchstone, if you will. Like this poem.

 

4 comments

  1. john foggin

    A virulently dualistic mindset. My words. Or they will be, by osmosis. It occurs to me you’d described precisely what ails this strangely alienated land. The dualism of us and them that requires no empirical evidence to sustain it, and, indeed, would die of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Meredith

    Why, why is it so hard to pluck up the courage to leave a comment? This post reminds me of my understanding of Melanie Klein’s depressive position – a developmental phase that (hopefully) follows the paranoid-schizoid. Or, to go from ‘either/or’ to ‘yes and’. This simple philosophy, of our own internal states, our communities and our countries. Yes and – to asylum seekers here in Australia, the answer to race, colour and creed. Yes to a secular/religious poem/prayer. Thank you Anthony.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. evelyneholingue

    I know his work in French and what I like best is how he is able to relate to everyone’s life with such simple words. The translations are very faifthful to the original version. Thank you for sharing. Merci.

    Liked by 1 person

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