“I don’t know how to pray without beseeching,” I replied to this challenging soul I call mentor, friend. Her morning ritual includes prayer, on one’s knees, in supplication. I resist fiercely but not because I don’t do humble.
My head is full of Catholic.
Nuns-in-charge-type Catholic, where prayer is begging to be spared punishment marketed as communication with the capital G god; the daily bread of rapture.
“Hail Mary full of grace… bless us oh lord and these thy gifts… if I should die before I wake”… My memories of Catholic prayer are like mantras for the hell-bound seeking deliverance.
I am eight years old, under my bed at boarding school praying, “Dear God please don’t let them find me, they are so mean. They want my pajamas with the feet, the ones Grannie just sent, the ones I’m wearing right now. Please God, you know they’ve hurt me before. Why can’t I go home, please God.”
Prayers were woven through the fabric of life at Saint Joseph’s Mountain School for Girls. And so were discipline, punishment, and humiliation. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…”
“Forgiveness is up to the Lord,” said Sister Mary Victor, a well-named brute of a woman who stood almost six feet tall and whose round, dark face was masculinized by a mustache. She once pushed a hall mate up against the wall and knocked one of her front teeth loose while commanding the young girl to “Put the clothes in the drawer the way you are told or feel the wrath of God.”
Sister Mary Victor was a soldier for this wrathful god.
And forgive us our trespasses…
“Can I please go home God, I don’t like it here and it’s always so cold,” I prayed daily.
The steam heat would clang through the pipes while it was still dark, jolting me awake. Just as I warmed up enough to release the fetal position required to stay warm through the night, it was time to get up. The floors were cold, the water used to brush our teeth and wash our bodies brutally so. “God, I know you’re there but why don’t you answer?” I prayed on autoplay.
God seemed uninterested in my request to go home, but maybe the pneumonia was His idea of salvation, as it forced my release. At home my fever raged — an answer to my pleas for warmth taken to an extreme? My mind was filled with hallucinations of fire. Was this hell? If I should die before I wake…
“Dear God where am I, am I going to be alone forever?” were the prayers that wrote themselves and roared in my head like the fever in my body.
Decades later I pray with thanksgiving for all that I have and get to be and do daily. I don’t fear dying before I wake or anything called a trespass. I will get on my knees and bow to my god essence, the light in me that sees the light in everyone.
In sister Mary Victor.
Rachel’s invitation was to pray. What I received was the opportunity to resist then release a head full of old anger and resentment.
So that I could return to prayer, even if skeptically.
“If you can’t pray sincerely, offer your dry, hypocritical prayer,” Rumi writes, “for God in his mercy accepts bad coin.”