Searching and Picking

When I sat down this morning, I planned to write about the Toronto Public Library, but sunshine got in the way. It’s been one of those splendid, sunny days at the beginning of the blackberry season, when every berry still feels like an untouchable treat. Or at least a protected one. I’m not sure if the blackberries that grow around here are particularly vicious with their thorns and brambles, but I think it makes them all the sweeter.

The Spouse and I got the bikes out the shed and the kids’ noses out their books, and together we headed down the bike path looking for berries. Last year’s haul lasted us until late spring, but our harvest was largely due to happen-stance. This year, we’re getting organized. We filled the kids’ backpacks with tubs and brought both water and sunscreen. Professionals, for sure.

Gathering blackberries both is work and isn’t. You want to keep going. It is tricky, scratchy, compelling work. You do it because you are hungry. You do it because they are beautiful. You do it because you will be hungry later and you want to save some of this sweet summer sunshine. You do it because they are there and so are you.

Everyone is looking for something.

Which brings me back to the library. Someone has set up an online page where you can watch all the internet search terms that people enter at the Toronto Public Library.  Really. It is mesmerizing.

Here’s a slice.

englisk conversation circle

Canadia wit and humor

How to hold a book

Anthropology textbook

My big fat zombie goldfish

There is a pause button in case you want to slow the stream. There are a lot of names – mostly ones I’ve never heard of. People misspell, search, try again. People look for answers and DVDs. It is all strangely beautiful.

Like lit windows in a big city, all these terms represent individual stories. After watching them for a while, these scrolling search terms take on the feel of strange, contemplative poetry, maybe even prayer. Found poetry. Found prayer, perhaps.

Do we find prayer? Our own or others? What is it that we sense when we compare something with prayer? Is it the surrender or the need?

Prayer doesn’t seem to come from silence, though silence can be prayerful. Instead, it is rooted in all the words we gather and use. Our best words, and yes, also our worst. What else is confession if not letting our worst show and then letting it go?

Prayer grows when we make spaces for it, so perhaps that is a kind of finding.

Last year, when I worked in a contemplative ministry, I seemed to be forever finding small slips of paper around the church with prayer requests, both big and small. A child. A job. Forgiveness. A path.

If I can compare scrolling search terms to prayer, then what about those blackberries? Was picking them prayer?

Perhaps. Prayer is more than the lists of things we are looking for. It is the finding of something even as we look. It is the something understood of George Herbert’s 17th-century sonnet on prayer.

Here’s one for your punnet on this sunny Monday. May Herbert’s layered images of prayer be an illuminating feast and most certainly food for the journey ahead.

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.



About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.