So many stories to be told about children’s bedtime routines! The hyper, “I’m not sleepy!” The conk out artist, sound asleep on the way up the stairs, head on one tread, bottom in the air. The FOMO (short for ‘fear of missing out’) toddler, screaming for just a bit more time, another show. The never-enough-storytime cherub. The cranky, whining, disgruntled days-end darling. And the one in a million, ‘I’m going to bed now. I’m tired.’ Author Patti Smith, in her memoir, Just Kids, (New York: Ecco, 2010, 4-5) writes about the evening routine of her childhood:
My mother taught me to pray; she taught me the prayer her mother taught her. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. At nightfall, I knelt before my little bed as she stood, with her ever-present cigarette, listening as I recited after her. I wished nothing more than to say my prayers…
It pleased me to imagine a presence above us, in continual motion, like liquid stars.
Not contented with my child’s prayer, I soon petitioned my mother to let me make my own. I was relieved when I no longer had to repeat the words If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take and could say instead what was in my heart. Thus freed, I would lie in my bed by the coal stove vigorously mouthing long letters to God. I was not much of a sleeper and I must have vexed him with my endless vows, visions, and schemes. But as time passed I came to experience a different kind of prayer, a silent one, requiring more listening than speaking.
My small torrent of words dissipated into an elaborate sense of expanding and receding. It was my entrance into the radiance of imagination… Lying deep within myself, the symmetry of a snowflake spinning above me, intensifying through my lids, I seized a most worthy souvenir, a shard of heaven’s kaleidoscope.
Since retro everything is new again, setting out on the retro journey back to our childhood and revisiting the simplicity and honesty of early prayers may help us re-calibrate our praying of today. The non-sophistication of little ones, their uncluttered approach absent the ‘woulds,’ ‘shoulds,’ the regrets, the pressing concern of ‘doing it right,’ might be the source of refreshing and freedom we so long to know. Imagine! Guilt-free praying! Imagine, too, full-range-of-emotion praying – joy, sorrow, hilarity, soundless weeping, celebration, pleading, and on and on! What if Abba (Daddy) doesn’t listen for syntax, or churchy words, or mispronunciations, or wrong-adressed Bible quotes, or sketchy theology, or incessant repetition, but simply hugs us, grinning from ear to ear, misty-eyed, that we are spending time with him, telling him of our day, the good and the bad, the monumental and the of-interest-to-no one-but-me details? What if, when our time on his lap is done, we jump down excited, completely loved-up, eager to take the overflow with us into the activity/non-activity of the day ahead? Maybe there’s gonna be a revolution! PD