I was taught to pray at a very young age. They were simple prayers. Prayers that rhymed so they were easy for a child to learn.
Before meals, we held hands and recited, “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.” Simple and to the point. This was the only grace we ever said in our house. Even when my brother and I had reached adulthood, we continued to use this prayer when we would share meals as a family.
At bedtime, either my mother or father would come into my room and listen to my prayer of “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” This is also a simple prayer, though a bit dark and gruesome. Why should we be asking a child to think about dying in her sleep right before she nods off? Though it might explain my lifelong preoccupation with death.
Prayers were still said in public schools at the start of the day when I attended. There was also a Bible verse and the Gideons came around once a year passing out little New Testaments. I don’t know what any of the non-Christian students did with their little New Testaments. Of course, when I was in elementary school I didn’t pay much attention to what someone’s religious beliefs were. All these years later, I still don’t care what someone’s religious beliefs are.
I started attending Catholic school in 6th grade. We weren’t Catholic, but my parents had been told that I was bored and unchallenged in public school and if they could afford to send me to a private school, it would be much better for me. So I took a test and was accepted to a private Catholic school.
Not only was a prayer said over the PA system at the start of the day, every class began with a prayer, usually “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
This was a new prayer for me. Mary didn’t get her own prayer in the Methodist church I attended. She was more of a bit player in the theology I was taught in Sunday school. Not sure why as she seemed to have an important role, but that must have been one of the pesky things that bothered John Calvin and Martin Luther enough to make them decide Catholicism wasn’t for them and that they should start their own church. Of course, they ended up not agreeing with each other and went their separate ways and started rival churches. Religion seems to bring out the divisiveness in people.
At some point, my night time prayer switched to the Lord’s prayer. I think this probably happened in my early teens. After reciting the Hail Mary prayer 5 or 6 times a day with its closing line making me think about death each time I said it, I just couldn’t bring myself to think about possibly dying in my sleep right before I nodded off.
It did feel a little weird saying the Lord’s prayer late at night. The line about “Give us this day our daily bread” always felt like this should be a morning prayer. I would always pause on that line wondering if maybe I should change it to “Give us tomorrow our daily bread,” but I never did. It seemed a bit sacrilegious to tinker with it though there are two versions in the Bible, the more familiar Sermon on the Mount version from Matthew and a truncated version in Luke.
I was never one to use prayer as a means of bargaining with God. I always thought it rather odd that someone would offer allegiance or swear to change one’s ways if only God would intercede and get that person through whatever crisis was occurring. I would ask God to watch over those I loved and I would ask for patience and compassion and tolerance in getting through my days.
I always prayed at least once a day. I always felt hopeful when I prayed. Not so long ago, during a particularly dark point I would pray several times a day. My prayers became pleas. Pleas that were drenched in tears. I was sobbing and begging God for help. No help came. Hope is now elusive.
I don’t pray much these days, though there are times when I sob uncontrollably. Maybe one day I’ll pray again, though I fear my prayers will always be stained with tears.