My feathers were hot and ruffled. I was not to be consoled that summer of vacation Bible school. The delight in gold stars for memorizing a line of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep was wasted on this Nervous-ER Nellie.
Grandmother talked me off the edge at bedtime, my eyes like saucers in the dark, my hands clenching the sheets. She shushed me to say that death was a long way off; I would first have to become an old woman like she.
As a practical person, she would never have painted the heavenly-reward picture as perhaps her Grandmother did.
Hers, a voice of incessant chatter, was quiet – “God is with us here, now.” And then in particular, “Feel how strong the bed is holding you up. Relax and know it is there.” A sense of peace sparkled like trust in my knee-high body and I drifted off to sleep.
It was years later when I realized the intent of such a double meaning. Whether she was aware or not, she showed prayer as an allowing, not a dictation.
My diet of Bible school turned into regular Sunday church attendance; I longed for more than a redundant formula. The stories and scriptures were inexplicable to me, but the ways that adults often behaved in between services were permanently etched upon my brain.
Did the Good Word jive into everyday life? I watched. Did prayer change people for the better? I waited.
The Jewish theologian Martin Buber once said, “the beating heart of the universe is holy joy.” So can’t faith be renewed by releasing the control monitor for a strong bed of mystery and trust?
Richard Rohr explains the way it can be – “God in us, through us, with us, for us, and as us.” Alas. With the proud sanction of the good people we define ourselves to be, a map of the prototype is drawn up with a status quo in mind.
One day as I hit the exit door of a local mall, I noticed that I was in the midst of a teaming batch of busy folk hustling on to the next thing. I stopped in my tracks; my top popped. The scene before us all was a sunset of overwhelming beauty, a color explosion which rested on an immense landscape as far as the eye could see.
You could only stop and laugh in gratitude and I did. I looked around for other souls to share the moment, but each one was head-down and on their way. A tremendous moment of indwelling connection had arrived right then and there on that concrete slab; but prayer is rarely a state of mind.
It has taken a lifetime and now I know why we must eventually entertain a space in the dark night of the iguana. Time-out in there is called empty-land. We must suffer mightily inside that place alone with our tiny selves before we can unclench the bed sheets of artifice.
Then with imagined outcomes and rewards out of the way, the freedom of a higher nature is right there for the wearing. No worries, things play out artfully inside the divine.
My longtime friend Merrill Tenney McKewen, executive director of the Capital Area of Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi, says that for her, the one true prayer is: “Please help me know – YOUR will be done.”
This takes saddling up for a move onto the broader realm over a prescribed circle of travel. If it makes for a nervous-ER nellie, so be it. A rebirth happens each time we are open to such – ourselves, different musical sounds, religions, ways of managing certain givens and even prayer styles.
Literally with each revelation, we are “saved” from a life without the glory of shared sunsets.
Estherlee, a treasured friend in agreement with John Muir -“ in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” – recommended that I sign up for a zoom class called The Value of Haiku.
Straight from St. Mary’s Sewanee, a retired Baptist minister led novices on a new path of allowing God. LaMon Brown, former missionary to Thailand, has written over 1,000 haiku. With haiku he said, “One can become more alive to the one who made it.”
Funny. We observed, cleared the clutter, simplified our thoughts and found that we could dissolve into the majesty of creation. How? John Paul Lederach, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame said, “I take haiku like vitamins, one-a-day. My vitamin – AWE.”
So many practices – prayer beads, chanting, mindfulness, grounding – so little time. Still know that transcendence happens in relationship, never through requirements.
In an enchanting devotional Dr. Joseph Howell, calls up Michelangelo’s statues, the ones that depict ‘The Prisoners,’ “figures from the old testament and mythology who represent the triumph of the virtues over the vices.” Michelangelo famously said that he worked to free the people imprisoned within the stone….
If I could go back to the locked up well-wishers who taught me to pray these words – “If I should die before I wake, I pray to God my soul to take,” I would tell them that I’ve found those words to be a given.
Maybe another prayer can express our journey now:
the maple leaf then let