I have every reason to believe in prayer. My first prayers were memorized and recited by rote; they were part of the ritual of mealtime, bedtime and church. The prayers were not my own, but I laid claim to them. “Now I lay me down to sleep. The Lord is good, the Lord is great. Our Father who art in heaven.” I recited these words with the confidence that only a child has that God is listening. Prayer continued to be an integral part of my life as I entered middle school. Growing up, my mother’s younger sister lived with us. She was twelve years older than me and twelve years younger than my mother. My aunt tells the story of how she found me, on the day of her departure to her own apartment, kneeling, bible in hand, before a lighted candle. The thing is, I can remember just how I felt. How I was imploring God to look after this person I loved even if she did have to leave me. I wanted to pray that she would stay, but I knew, even then, that such a selfish request would go unheeded. Just about the same time, I changed schools. I met a whole new world of friends. On our walks to school and home again, we would talk about our teachers, school lunches and whether God existed. I listened, with interest, to a boy – a self-declared agnostic – explain his doubts whether God existed. I made the mistake of asking a devout Catholic boy how he had such utter certainty that God was real. I wasn’t intending to challenge him;I really wanted to know. I paid for that question with a fist to my solar plexus. I went down like a rock. I didn’t have theological debates with that crew again.
Over the interceding forty years, life has presented ample opportunities for me to pray. Driven by circumstance, I have turned to prayer over and over again. The numbers are impressive. A serious car accident, five miscarriages, one Alzheimer afflicted father-in-law in-residence, my husband’s resignation from his job on the day my first viable pregnancy was confirmed, a placenta previa, six months on bed-rest while caring for my one-year old baby. There were the many pneumonias and respiratory infections that plagued my first-born. There was the debilitating illness that wracked my second child for a year before her grossly inflamed appendix was removed. I fought the inexplicable degeneration of my joints that led to chronic pain and surgical repairs and my son’s struggle with demons we didn’t always understand. I used prayer through my eldest child’s lung surgery and battle with the fungi aspergillus and, my second child’s struggle with Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome alongside the discovery that she had inherited this pernicious disorder from me. I prayed as I stood alongside my mother from cancer’s grasp to its defeat of her. Prayer has been a constant through the years of what my parents once tagged as my “many trials of Job.” My prayers were always answered. I simply did not always recognize the answers that were delivered for what they were.
Each decade has brought with it its own formula for successful prayer; how I pray, the exact mechanics of what prayer is, has changed with time. When I was a child, I would pray to God by calling out his name, then politely making a request. I prayed aloud for understanding and help. It seemed that I was successful using this approach; I began to think that this was a lot like a magic act I’d seen at a church fundraiser. A magician was hired to say the magic words, repeat our heart’s desires and AbracadabraShazaam, a rabbit, peanut butter sandwich or scarf appeared!! It was imperative that we limit our heart’s desires to items displayed directly on the table in front of us. I believed that I should never pray for something I couldn’t imagine.
High school brought its own set of worries and concerns. I noticed that when I turned to the same God I had prayed to in elementary school, I got similar results….despite the odds, things turned out for the best. . “God, please let the boy in eighth grade math notice me despite my leg braces and crutches.” He called that week. However, it was easy to read on the faces of the cool kids that it wasn’t cool to pray in public and definitely not in school. I decided to go underground with my prayer and call it meditation, instead. In tenth grade, I took some lessons in Transcendental Meditation (TM) and learned how to ohhmmm with the best of them. I went from being geeky to being hippie with little more than a mantra. Meanwhile, despite hardships, goodness - godliness – continued to be spill into my life.
In my twenties, my prayer methods evolved to asking for the highest good for all involved. I gave up the notion that I could know what would be the best resolution to a problem. I gave up believing I had any idea of what was on the table. I left it up to God to determine the outcome that would best serve everyone involved. I arrived at this acceptance by way of a funeral I attended for a young man who was killed in a car accident. His death left his wife and two young children disconsolate. The priest presiding over the service declared that humans have a restricted view of God’s will. He likened our knowledge of God’s intentions to a view of a parade -- seen through a knothole in a picket fence. Prayer was a way to make the view a little larger and bring us more perspective about our place in that parade.
My thirties brought a profound awareness that the best I could do was to let go and let God take over. It was a relief to know that I was never going to be cast adrift; in moments of despair, panic or loneliness, I could take a break to ask for God’s presence in my life. If I was quiet and still, God found me.
What served as a resort of last measure in my thirties was my go- to strategy as the mother of three children in my forties. I had enough sense to realize that life was too big, too complex, too much for me to tackle on my own. A little divine intervention was necessary. I decided moving meditations might be an adjunct to those long-ago thirty-minute TM sessions. I found myself asleep in five minutes when I tried long, recumbent meditative trances. (I have seen discovered that I can sleep sitting up -- an highly evolved skill, I might add.) I found a new way to pray. My mantra– heard as a buzzing in my ears-- was a short, staccato sound, repeated over and over……..GodGodGodGodGod. Though somewhat frenetic, this method kept me in touch with my greater power and it worked for me.
It was in this decade that I discovered for myself the indisputable power of sharing prayer. My cousin, Alison, always, upon hearing of my challenges would say, “I will pray for you.” I was touched that she would think of me. Finally, I was feeling so overwhelmed and full of despair that I submitted a prayer request and a ten-dollar bill to Unity Village. Within a week or so, the tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. Cause and effect? I will never know for sure, but I do know that I drew comfort knowing my child’s life was not solely in my hands. As reluctant as I was to draw anyone else into my personal conversations with God, I discovered that when friends, family and well-wishers raised my prayers with their voices, my small, quiet voice was lifted. Whenever more than one person brings their clear intentions to inviting God’s presence in another person’s life, it is prayer. The whisper of thanks, the surrender to God, these are simple prayers of beneficence. Now. when my.sister-in-law says, “ Good-bye, I will pray for you.” I say, “Please do.”
In my fifties, I have, once again, devised a different approach to prayer that combines the magic of childhood, the quiet, stillness of my twenties, the letting go of my thirties and the prayer in motion of my forties. Prayer is more than desire; it is intention. The prayer of my fifties starts with mindfulness. I hold an awareness of that moment, letting it expand into my total consciousness. Gradually, I let thoughts and concerns drift through without latching too hard onto them. They come, they go with each breath. A refrain of GodGodGodGod taps out in a whisper at the edge of my awareness. The last part involves being aware of what follows. Expect and look for good things and they arrive. Ask for help, it comes. Sometimes in a form or in a manner I could never imagined or considered. Most often in a time frame that I find frustrating. However, with patience and time, I see order in all that transpires. I understand I am one small part of a much larger mosaic. Prayer lifts me and brings me joy even when I have lagging faith. I have learned that faith is a rugged weed and not easily exterminated. Even for an experienced gardener.