(Editor’s Note - Susan Ruland has decided to start writing for the Religion page in The Sun Times, so you will see her column here)
Parochial school in the Forties and Fifties as I experienced it would be a foreign land indeed for today's child. Not only was a strange language spoken often (Latin, of course), but many English words were pretty foreign to middle-schoolers, too – words like benignity and continency (Fruits of the Holy Ghost). I still struggle with some of them. It was an era when memorization was deemed a key part of learning. I can still recite “By the shores of Gitche Gumee...” and “Four score and seven years ago...” and “Fido, Fido can do tricks. Seven times eight is fifty-six”. And “Pater noster qui es in caelis...”.
Ah, yes, prayers. Prayers for any and all occasions. Memorized prayers. Our school building was located about half a block from city hall, which housed the police and fire departments. Rare was the day when we heard no sirens. And when we did hear a siren, all activity stopped immediately, even recess. Three Hail Mary's later, our lesson(or our game of Red Rover, Red Rover) resumed.
Prayers at the beginning of every day. Before and after recess. Before and after lunch. On occasion for a sick classmate, or a special request from the pastor, or on a special “holy” day. Advent and Lent brought more opportunities for prayers. “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross, thou hast redeemed the world.” - at all fourteen Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent.Prayers at the end of every day. Followed by reminders to say our prayers at home.
Memorized prayer definitely has its place. In 2002, I spent two months in the hospital, much of that time under the influence of several “We're not in Kansas anymore” medications. Maintaining a train of thought for more than fifteen seconds or so was impossible. I could not put thoughts and words together well enough to explain to God that I was scared or confused, or my feet were cold, or “Why…. But I could readily fall back on the security of a litany of Hail Marys. And I learned later that friends and family at church were doing the same on my behalf. Praying in unison as a group, speaks to the heart of the concept of community – everyone on the same page, using the same words, directed heavenward, to express loving concern, and to ask for help for a member of the family. I am living proof that the prayer network at my church is a powerful force indeed.
But I personally do not always feel comfortable with memorized prayer. I can get halfway through a Hail Mary and suddenly realize I am opting for potato salad for Saturday's picnic. The purpose for rote recitation is supposed to be as a calming, soothing background for meditation, using it as a sort of “mantra” like some proponentsof Eastern meditation techniques recommend. The meditation, of course, is to be about some significant Biblical scene. Stand beside Mary as you watch Jesus tell the servant to fill those six jars with water. Watch what happens next. Stand beside Mary at the foot of the cross, knowing what happens next. Stand beside another Mary as the angel tells her, “He is not here. He has been raised up just as he said”. Try to imagine what will happen next. I can put myself “in the scene” as I read a Scripture passage, but I have not figured out how to do it with a rosary in my hands.
So, why am I telling you all this? I want to, need to, try some new approach (s?) to praying. I want a more meaningful prayer life. I am so jealous of those lips that open and heartfelt, meaningful, uplifting, spirit-filled, wonderful words just flow. Spontaneous prayer is a real challenge for me. It was late in my life when I first encountered it.Conversational prayer finds me close to speechless. (And too quick to blame those regimented formative years.) But I can sit for hours sharing heartfelt, meaningful, uplifting, spirit-filled, wonderful words with a good friend. I am jealous of those who can have such chats with their creator.
So, I want my prayer life to be easier, more rewarding. Not necessarily that I want faster, clearer answers to prayers (though that would be nice, too), it's just that I have let prayer become a chore. Something that HAS to be done. And when I am finished praying (usually “giving up” much too quickly), I often feel empty, rushed, time wasted, frustrated, why did I bother…. I have a sense that God's not too pleased with my effort either. So I am going exploring. Any and all suggestions welcomed. Maybe some of you who memorized Bible verses as a child, or learned every hymn in the songbook are also ready to try something new. I am going to explore the world of prayer. I know in past columns I have asked you to join me in praying for peace. Perhaps together we can find a better way to do that. Keep in touch!
Peace be with you.
PS: found this quote on Facebook and thought it worth sharing -
IF YOU PRAYED AS MUCH AS YOU WORRIED,
YOU'D HAVE A LOT LESS TO WORRY ABOUT !