I have always enjoyed having the unique voice of Christopher Hitchens on the program and hope to do so for years and years to come. Our conversation about his memoir was one of the more memorable of my decade on the radio and two decades in media, which isn’t surprising since Hitch-22 is such a remarkable book.
Hitchens has continued to write about his illness and about the prayers on his behalf from Christians around the country and I suspect the world. One of those praying people, an acquaintance and admirer of Hitchens, sent me the email below following Hitchens’ most recent Vanity Fair essay on the subject, “Unanswerable Prayers”:
Christopher Hitchens in his column in the new Vanity Fair dismisses those who have been praying for him. He adds that on September 20th, somehow designated “Pray for Hitchens Day”, no one should bother to “trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better”. He is quoting from Shakespeare’s Sonnet # 29. The line comes from the first part of the sonnet when the poet is in despair. But then comes the “turn” in the sonnet. Thinking of the “sweet love” of his beloved, the poet finds that his spirits soar “like to the lark at break of day arising/ From sullen earth” to “sing hymns at heaven’s gate”. Surely the prayers for Hitchens are signs of unselfish love and thus are not “troubling deaf heaven … with bootless cries” but rather arriving at “heaven’s gate” as “sweet hymns”. Hitchens has referenced only the despairing section of the sonnet (perhaps he feels a touch of despair? — a necessary step on the road to conversion!).
In any case, I am reminded of the lines from Tennyson’s “The Passing of Arthur”, the last of his Idylls of the King, when the expiring King Arthur says, “More things are wrought by prayer/ Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice/ Rise like a fountain for me night and day.” I hope that those prayers may prove helpful for Hitchens (who will remain in my prayers).
Shakespeare Sonnet # 29
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Tennyson from “The Passing of Arthur” Idylls of the King
“‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself; what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! But thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”