Prayer Teacher

Who taught you to pray?

That was one of the questions we were asked during a session earlier today. Truth be told, I don’t have a concrete memory of when or from whom I learned to pray, but because I can remember that earliest prayer I have a good idea who taught me:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

That is the prayer I remember “knowing” as a child, and feeling some degree of compulsion to say it from time to time, and I would hazard to guess that it was my mother who taught it to me. Not that I have any fond memory of her sitting by my bedside teaching it to me; just a vague awareness.

The funny thing is, although I cannot remember who first taught me to pray, I do remember who taught me to pray most recently. My son Will (3 years old).

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
May angels watch me through the night
and keep me in their blessed sight. Amen.

This is the version Will knows*. Wanda Lucille, a friend in Illinois – and member of a church I served there – had sent him a bear that recites this prayer, and Lynn has taught it to him. (Lynn has also planted in him the seeds of contemplation, engaging him in the examen of conscience by asking him about what was “good” during the day that he wants to say thank you for.)

The problem with it is when I have put Will to bed and remembered to offer prayers with him – something that, sadly, I fail to do more often than not – I stumble over the prayer. Years of mote memorization tend to win out, and I start the second clause as I know it, which is foreign to him, and then I forget how it goes. So he corrects me. Often, our evening prayer goes something like:

Me: “Now I lay me down to sleep, and pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I… umm… no, wait”
Will: “angels”
Me: “May angels keep me… no, um…”
Will: “watch”
Me: “watch me”
Will: “through night”
Me: “through the night.”
Will: “keep me”
Me: “and keep me in their”
Will: “best sight.”
Me: “blessed sight. Amen.”
Will: “amen.”

I wonder if Will will remember that it was his mother who first taught him how to pray and give thanks to God for things. (Although we have mutually emphasized saying grace before meals for some time – and for several months Will would add things to pray for** – Lynn is definitely the greater influence on Will’s spiritual reflection at this point.) Perhaps not, but I can hope that these initial seeds of God’s presence and grace will grow into a spiritual life that embraces the wondrous mysteries of God.

*I am intrigued by the number of people here in the Academy who shared today that it was their mother, father, or some other family member who taught them their first prayer, and it was some variation of the “now I lay me down to sleep” with a more positive second clause. Seems the whole “if I die” portion of the prayer has bugged some people for decades!

**First he wanted to pray “for Bob.” Then “for Bob and Kathy.” And then for “Bob and Kathy and Pico.” This is a couple who are friends with us, and their cat!


4 responses to “Prayer Teacher

  1. that wasn’t Wanda’s gift… it was the woman you sent postcards to. I can picture her, hear her voice, laugh at/with her. It was a baby shower gift (oh, what was her name?!). Wanda’s gifts (when she met him at age 8 months) are the books that share simple prayers. We still read them often, too.

  2. But who is keeping track?! I remember saying the same prayer with my parents, usually my mom, sitting at my bedside. I can also remember racing through it, trying to get it done so I could go to sleep. And my sister skipping whole parts of it. I guess those days are still ahead of us in our family!

  3. Re: Will helping you to say the prayer…I believe we learn best when we teach something to others…Perhaps that is why God wants us to share our story with others…So we will learn better how much God loves us.

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