Brian Doyle’s “Last Prayer” could be just what you need.
If you could look back at the trajectory of your life thus far, what would you say about it? Which moments would stick out? Would your attention be drawn to seasons and places where you were less than satisfied? Or would smaller moments of joy seep into the cracks of pain and transform your perspective of the suffering?
And in your last moments of life? Out of everything life has brought to your door, what rises to the top?
Though it may be difficult to imagine ourselves being in that place of near-death reflection, the truth is this: there is eternal value in accessing that posture and living into it today, no matter how distant from death you may believe yourself to be.
Truly, there is power in the narrative we tell ourselves about the overarching trajectory of our lives, the coloring of our experiences.
In Brian Doyle’s “Last Prayer,” we get a glimpse into the mindset of a man near death. Award-winning author and editor of Portland Magazine, Brian Doyle captures in words just how powerful the forces of joy can be in the face of death.
Read his final prayer in “A Book of Uncommon Prayer,” called “Last Prayer”:
Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever.
Personally, I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!
And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious!
And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!
And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.
I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.
But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life—make him the biggest otter ever, and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon.
Remember—otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.
This excerpt from A Book of Uncommon Prayer by Brian Doyle is reprinted with permission of Ave Maria Press.
Captured within this prayer is a sentiment of which we often become forgetful—that our circumstances on earth, no matter how fraught, will always become transformed by the same power that was present when the truth of the Gospel was first revealed to us: grace.
This isn’t the first place we’ve encountered this idea. We can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis and his portrayal of the Kingdom of God as here and now, defining our present situations: “[Mortals] say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” Agony and glory, heaven and hell, though they have often been relegated to conceptualization of the after-life are processes that begin even before death.
“The good man’s past,” C.S. Lewis says of the life on earth of one who has accepted the gift of grace, “begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven.” Or as Brian Doyle memorably puts it: pain was “infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small.”
Agony and glory, heaven and hell, though they have often been relegated to conceptualization of the after-life are processes that begin even before death.
Pain never feels minuscule in the midst of it, but Doyle offers reorientation—a chance to reposition ourselves within the forward momentum of the Gospel and the promise of Heaven.
Truly, there is power in the narrative we tell ourselves about the overarching trajectory of our lives, the coloring of our experiences. Many of our lives have been colored with loss, illness or physical pain like Doyle mentions, abuse, abandonment, depression or a knee-buckling, wearying combination of all of the above. “When does it end?” we may ask ourselves.
Yet, through the Gospel, we know in our hearts where the victory lies. And there is rest to be found in that truth.
In reading Brian Doyle’s “Last Prayer,” it certainly is clear that he found shelter in that rest. When he reflects on his pain and heartbreak, it is a mere moment in comparison to the flood of joy to be found in memories of love shared between families and friends, the unexpected blessing of children, the privilege of a fulfilling career, the compassion for others felt deeply and lived out.
The essence of a life well lived is joy fulfilled, and as C.S. Lewis characterizes it, the ability to say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and mean it.