Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Praying into the Night

This piece first appeared in Zadok Perspectives No. 112 (Spring 2011). The Summer edition is out now, with my reflection on a visit to a witch doctor. To subscribe to Zadok, click here.


Many ancient traditions prescribe prayers for waking, for eating, and for going to sleep at night. I think this is great. I’d love to be the sort of person who formally prays at these times, but I never really manage it. In the hurly-burly of family life, when waking means being kicked in the kidneys at half past five by a restless two year old; when eating means sitting down to a child’s ‘no like that’, popping up a minute later to fetch milk in the pink cup, no the green cup, and having someone’s crusts flicked onto one’s plate; when sleeping means staggering to bed at the end of the day after half an hour’s respite lying flat on the couch... well, I just can’t manage a long structured prayer at those times; and this bothers me.

Is formal prayer necessary? Perhaps. It’s certainly something I do every week at church, and have used at various stages to help structure and guide my thoughts; but now I have three young children, it feels too hard. I spend some time most days sitting quietly and listening, but the effort of words is too much.

Yet I’ve started to realise that, for all my concern, I do pray constantly. It’s just not particularly consciously nor in the long wordy way so many suggest. When I wake, the first thought that usually comes to mind is ‘thank you’. Thank you for this day, my gentle husband, those hilarious children, the crisp winter mornings. For a thick coat and my red woolly arm warmers, for things large and small, I am grateful. It’s not a deliberate prayer, nor is it carefully articulated; instead, as I lie in bed and ponder getting up, I am momentarily flooded with gratitude.

Later, as I make coffee and hover over the toaster, I give thanks for this drink which smells so good, for hot toast and cold butter, for enough in my belly and the bellies of my kids. I remember the children who are hungry, and ask ‘please’. Please feed them, please teach us how to share, Lord have mercy on us all.

On the walk to school, a driver in a hurry shoots around the corner; I yank back my kids. Then I yell at the car and wave my finger in the air. A minute or two later, the fright and anger ebb to be replaced by a wave of ‘sorry’. Sorry that I cannot control my temper, that I have not yet learned the ways of gentleness. Sorry that I am aggressive in my fear; sorry that my children had to see it. I apologise to my kids, and to the One who is always present, I apologise also.

At a dozen points during the day – a swirl of yellow leaves dances through the air; a toddler announces she loves me; a sweet mandarin segment explodes in my mouth; the perfect word slots into place – I am momentarily overcome with sheer gratitude at being alive.

When the moon is up and the house is quiet, I slide back into bed. I soon grow warm nestled into my husband; and in the darkness I drowsily think ‘thank you’ once again: for this bed, this family, this house, this day, for the things that have gone well. Thank you too for the gracious presence at the places where I stumbled.

As I drift off, it becomes less a conscious thought and more a way of being. I am no longer just a tired woman falling asleep. Instead, this very ordinary person is becoming a small miracle, a conduit of gratitude, as with each slow breath I exhale my prayer deep into the night: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou Alison. What a beautiful reflection.


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