Originally published June 7, 2013
I think my soul has been on a journey to find the “right way to pray” all my life.
While I remember the first prayer I learned, “A Child’s Bedtime Prayer,” I don’t remember being consistent about praying it. I liked the second part of it, about praying for my family and friends: “God Bless Mommie and Daddy, (sisters and brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, maybe the family dog, etc.).” There was a definite order, with family first. Praying for others felt good and was a good thing to do; I’ve continued that practice.
The first part, however, is actually a scary thought, especially for a young child: “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.” Yikes!
I was only just reminded of this fear when I listened to Anne Lamott read her wonderful audio book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. At one point, she recounted how she had been raised to be an atheist by intellectual, hippie parents, but she was naturally curious and drawn to religion because of her grandfather, a minister. However, when she spent the night with her best friend and heard the bedtime prayer for the first time, she was horrified. Her curiosity was squashed for awhile.
My parents weren’t particularly religious, but I was naturally curious too. I learned a lot of standard prayers when I attended Catholic grade school, and because my beloved grandmother was religious my feelings toward the Church’s practices were generally positive … even if the prayers did not resonate with my soul. Except for my grandmother’s prayer before meals: “Good food, good meat, good god — let’s eat!” That always made everyone laugh. (Thank you, Nannie, for steering me toward a God that had a sense of humor.)
There were many years when I felt like I was “wandering lost, in the desert:” after I left home to attend college; after marrying and starting a family; and, after moving around the country, even farther from “home and family.” Those prayers that I had memorized by rote were not helpful guides, and the weekly Mass was becoming less and less satisfying. Still, my soul was searching for … what? I wasn’t sure. But oftentimes, I would find myself entering a church (most of the time, Catholic) during the week to just sit in the pew or kneel, and … what? I wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know how to talk with God. But, I wanted to.
Sometime in the mid-’90s, I was feeling especially lost and sought out help from a counseling “service,” connected with our parish church. God smiled on me when He connected me with a wonderful woman, a close friend to this day; I call her “My Spiritual Guide.” In many respects, she was my therapist; I shared my life’s sad stories with her, and she listened and listened and listened. She shared her own life and what she had found to be helpful.
One of those “tools” was a monthly subscription to “Daily Word,” a Unity booklet that spoke to me in common-sense language I could relate to. I have renewed my subscription for many years and have gifted several subscriptions. Daily entries begin with a theme word or phrase (such as “Faith” or “Let Go, Let God”) and a positive affirmation (such as “With faith in God, I act with ease and confidence.”). The affirmation is followed by a few encouraging, short paragraphs “defining” the theme. The daily entry always ends with a Bible verse (for “Faith:” What is seen was made from things that are not visible. – Hebrews 11:3)
Around that same time, my Mother gifted me a pocket-sized, leather-bound devotional entitled “God Calling.” First published in the mid-1930s, “God Calling” is also called “The Two Listeners” because it is the true (but anonymous) story of two elderly women — both poor, one in ill health — who Jesus visited nightly, consoling and encouraging them. They transcribed his messages; the book is an entire year of daily messages from Jesus who “speaks” directly to the readers. I became religious about reading “Daily Word” and “God Calling” nearly every morning, then meditating upon what I had read throughout the day. After several years, I had worn out my first “God Calling” book; the spine had separated from the binding, and the leather was torn. It pained me to replace my “dear friend.” I’m now on my third copy, and I have gifted many copies.
Spending time daily with these two spiritual publications has meant daily time with God, and like any relationship that is given time and thought, my relationship with Him has grown richer/deeper. Talking with Him — praying — has become easier. Occasionally, I still rely on a couple of standards — particularly the “Our Father” and the “Sign of the Cross.” And, when there is something personal I want to “discuss,” I typically start out with words of gratitude and praise, followed by prayers for others. I’m still hesitant to speak directly … because, afterall, this is God I’m talking to, not just some customer service guy on the other end of the line. It’s not like I’m barking orders at anybody, but I still want my “needs” to be clearly understood.
Learning to communicate better in all relationships has been an important part of my journey, and last year when I was on a long road trip — just me and my dog, Chloe — I had a lot of time to think about some issues that were bugging me. And, because I didn’t want to make any big mistakes, I “consulted” God. Much of the time, I spoke out loud because I could better “hear” myself think. (My dog didn’t care; she probably thought I was talking to her.) After some hemming and hawing, I eventually got around to speaking directly from my heart: pretty much, “I want this. I don’t want that. Help me figure this out.”
By the time I returned home, I felt more confident about the decisions I needed to make. Since then, I have continued to “pray” this way, and I feel — and hope — I’m on the right path. I do ask God to open my mind, heart and soul to follow better the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I remember to give thanks throughout the day for all number of “things” that I’ve rarely noticed. And, like Anne Lamott says: “Wow!” says a lot; it is a prayer of praise, of wonder for — among other “things” — a beautiful spring day, birdsong, flowers, children laughing, a lovely song, a smile, a kiss and a hug from a loved one.
Amen, and God Bless!
* Photos: 1) Chenik, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska; 2) Kauai, Napali Coast, Hawaii. Photos credited to author.