Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep...
I suppose that was one of the earliest prayers I learned. That and simple table grace were standard repertoire in my early childhood. Then, as I got older I came to envision prayer as somewhat like presenting Santa with a wish list. Of course, the granting of answers to those prayers was about as reliable as Santa fulfilling my wishes for a pony, an expensive toy, or some other unreasonable product of my imaginative greed. And then there were the prayers that Dad would come home after work and not stop to "have a quick one with his friends at the bar" or that the cavity in my tooth would go away. In short, prayer was a means of expressing my wants, my desire to avoid painful situations, my wish to be happy—focused on me, myself, and I.
Not surprisingly, when those prayers were not answered according to my desires, I began to drift away from praying at about the same rate I was drifting away from the church and the faith of a child.
A few years later, when God found me—as a new father with responsibilities for the lives of others—I was ready to listen, take direction; to put away what St. Paul referred to as childish things and walk with God as companion. It was in that opening of my willingness and time of discovery that I began to learn about prayer as connection, prayer as communication, and prayer as conversation. I came to realize that prayer was more than a wish list or an escape hatch.
Prayer as connection keeps me mindful of being in the presence of God—wherever, whenever. To know that God is with me, that God is watching over me, and that God is guiding my path is to join with the psalmists who came to that knowledge many millennia ago. I can face trials, I can rejoice in the good things of life, I can weep with the sad things, I can rest in peace—all because God is present and my now is connected with God's eternal.
Prayer as communication opens the way to express my needs, my wants, my frustrations, and my fears in an honest manner. Sometimes, prayer is spontaneous—I always think of Peter's great prayer standing on the water at Jesus' bidding. The waves begin to shake his confidence, to draw his concentration away from Jesus, and ultimately begin to consume him. His cry is, “Lord, save me!” Short, immediate, to the point, it is a model of sincerity in prayer. Communication is an essential ingredient of any relationship. It maintains marriages, keeps families intact, builds friendships, and allows us to move out of isolation.
Finally, prayer as conversation represents a closeness, an “Abba!” relationship to God as our mother/father, as the one who loves us and has our interest at heart, who suffers with us in suffering, who comforts us when we are hurt, who rejoices with us when we are gladdened. I love to express thanks to God for the joy and beauty in the sunrise or sunset, in the stars against a velvet black night sky, in the newborn animal, or the faithful dog nearing the end of his years. God shows me those things which please creation, which reveal purpose and produce hope. Conversation is prayer at its finest—and it often needs no words.
And having circled the sun for over seven decades, I can now tuck myself in, with a sure knowledge that God IS keeping watch, and, with all sincerity, pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and should I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take...”
- Fr. John
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