Now I Lay Me

November 21, 2022

When I was a very small child, the first prayer I learned was what I call the old-school bedtime prayer beginning with “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” This was before concerned parents changed the wording from “If I should die before I wake.” Honestly, this prayer did not mean much to me anyway. It was just a sweet little rhyme. Four-year-olds in the 1950s were unaware of what a “soul” was to begin. When I got to first grade though everything changed. My parents being devout Catholics, I entered St. Patricia Ann’s classroom at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and my life took a big turn. Soon after the start of school, Sister stood in front of the classroom, her young face lighted up and her hands tucked into the wide black sleeves of her habit. Softly she informed us, “Today, boys and girls, we are going to learn how to pray, and it is very easy.” We looked at each other, probably thinking much the same thing. We were learning to read, and it was NOT easy. And now we were going to learn to pray? “Here is all you have to do, “she said. “Just talk to God like you do your Mommy and Daddy. But you do not say the words out loud because God can hear them in your heart. Be sure to talk to God all day long though because he loves you and wants to hear from you. God may talk to you too and you will feel it in your heart.” My first conversations with God were simple and sometimes funny., “How come nuns don’t have babies?” I prayed. “Don’t let Rodney (my dog die!” I pleaded. “I don’t like these new glasses,” I complained to him. Over the years these little chats became part of who I am, part of my daily life

I did not give a single thought to how others might pray until a few years ago.

I was in a discussion group at church, and someone said they did not know how to pray. Then others joined in that they too were unsure how to do it. This began a very long discussion about prayer. I came to a few conclusions:

1. Many people rely mostly on what I call rote prayer such as the “Our Father” or shared prayer in church often led by the minister.
2. Some read scripture from the Bible as their main form of talking to God.
3. Often prayer has its own time and place: in church, before meals, at bedtime, in instances of crisis.
4. A lot of people have strong opinions on what prayer should look and sound like and finally
5. Leading prayer aloud is NOT popular.

Like a lot of Catholics, I memorized rote prayers such as the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.” Even as a child, praying the rosary was a comfort to me so I understand the need for this type of speaking to God. At night I read the “Prayer at Compline” from The Book of Common Prayer. I think it is beautiful and speaks what is in my heart. Yes, I do read it reflecting on my words as I do.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch,
‘ or weep this night, and give your angels charge over
those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord, Christ.
give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

Since my main form of prayer are those off-the-cuff chats with God that I learned as a child, words like these often float up from my heart. “Please give me more patience.” “I am afraid of ….. God, hold my hand and be with me.” And I am not above, “Don’t let me run out of gas!” or “If you could give me a lower electric bill this month, I would really appreciate it.” Many years ago, I found that praying while I was driving worked well for me. I never even turn on the radio trying to keep my mind open although I am sure God appreciates music and would speak to me anyway.

Over the years, I have found that leading prayer in a small group has become easier for me. I used to be afraid that I would stumble with words, freeze up or say something stupid. I have done all of those at one time or another. Sometimes I ramble or cannot think of what to say next but here is my secret. I imagine God looking down and saying, “Hey, listen to my daughter, taking a risk and praying out loud. That’s my girl!” I choose to believe that, and I hope it works for you too.

Blessings on you all,