The Great Blue Beautifulness

At the Back of the North Wind

At the Back of the North Wind

After this he said nothing for a while, and I laid myself on the floor of his garret, and stared up and around at the great blue beautifulness. I had forgotten him almost, when at last he said, ‘Ain’t you done yet?’ ‘Done what?’ I asked. ‘Done saying your prayers,’ says he. ‘I wasn’t saying my prayers,’ I answered. ‘Oh, yes, you were,’ said he, ‘though you didn’t know it! And now I must show you something else.’

— George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind

The Apostle Paul enjoins his readers to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). And perhaps the 19th century Presbyterian minister-turned-fantasy author George MacDonald was on to something in this passage from his masterpiece, At the Back of the North Wind. There’s more to prayer than reciting prayers — or talking to God, out loud or silently. And perhaps little Nanny, who in the passage quoted above gets lost in staring “up and around at the great blue beautifulness” in a dream she had, actually has something to teach us about prayer.

Sixteen centuries ago, John Cassian wrote “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself and of the fact that he is actually praying.” In other words, there’s a relationship between self-forgetfulness (which is a characteristic of humility) and “perfect” prayer. George MacDonald seems to be saying that getting lost in a moment of wonder, staring at the “great blue beautifulness” of the sky or whatever, just might be a way of approaching Cassian’s ideal of perfect prayer. It’s certainly something to ponder — the next time you’re staring aimlessly out the window.

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  • Sue Curwood

    Good evening Carl from Australia,

    Thanks for your blog entry…it made me ponder the nature of self-forgetfulness…self-less consciousness….that self-forgetfulness happens unbeknown to our self-reflective consciousness…its like the self is IN this unconscious consciousness…it simply is not engaged in self-reflection…it sees as if lost, yet fully participating in an unrelenting illuminative loving vastness…lost, yet mysteriously found and unselfishly animated…just not by or for self….where receptivity leads ‘as if’ self.

    Carl, the humility that pervades your writings, for me, hints at the workings of such an ‘unbeknown’ prayer life, ‘as if’ fully visible and knowable. As such, my heart feels blessed to have read what you sense there is to ‘unknow’ about perfect prayer.

  • http://www.lightonthepage.com Jay Landar

    Yes.. self-forgetfulness and perfect prayer seem to be the province of children. You spend a lifetime as an adult trying to remember how to forget. George MacDonald was on to something.

    Enjoyable writing.

  • http://oldcoveroad.blogspot.com/ Laura

    That’s one of my favorite books. Every time I reread it I find more there. I want to teach it someday. When Diamond says,”Nobody hurts me,” it seems to me he’s a perfect little paradigm of attentive, peaceful, childlike grace and serenity. Lovely post.


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