On praying

Do you remember where and when you learned to pray? And who taught you? I guess most of you don’t. I don’t. I think we learned it the same way we learn most of the usual, daily stuff when we’re todlers. You just sit there at the table, every morning, every evening, listening to the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary’s for some, and after a while you find yourself softly whispering the words, the sentences you’ve come to know as familiar to the daily routine of your household.
And even before the words, you learn to fold your tiny hands, just the way you see your brothers and sisters, your mom and dad do every day. I found out later that in many families they hold hands while praying, which is a fine thing to do of course, but for me, being a catholic girl in a catholic area, folding the hands was the right thing to do.
I can’t, however, bring back this childhood memory without remembering the little incident in first grade. I must have been six at the time, and my teacher made serious remarks about the way I was folding my hand. She said I was doing it wrong and it really took me years to figure out how in heavens name you can fold your hands the wrong way. Later I found out my right thumb should have been on top…. and it wasn’t, because I’m left-handed, which was, needless to say, a bit of a problem back in those days, and a huge problem to my teacher in particular.
Like all bigotry this incident made me sad and angry more than once. As if the sincerity of your faith and your prayer depends on the way you hold your hands! Where, in fact, it depends for a larger part on the culture you’re brought up in. As a student I’ve encountered quite a range of non-christian religions, and indeed, a great deal of a religion’s specifics are defined by the environment they are rooted in.
Desert people often pray standing with hands and head up. Why? Because the help they seek most probably won’t come from the earth, from the barren emptiness that surrounds them. They raise their eyes, as we read more than once in the bible, expecting their help and salvation will come from the heavenly realms.
How different was the posture while praying among the Northern Europeans. They often prayed kneeling down, head bowed and the hands folded on the chest, because that was the right way to adress the chieftains and other persons of power. Through feudal times and the enormous influence of Charlemagne on European christianity this posture became the most common way for white christians to pray.
But as I said, it really is a matter of culture. And you will probably agree with me, that much more than posture, it is, or should be, the attitude that counts when it comes to praying.
When it comes to that, I surely do remember who taught me to pray. It was my mother, who wisely never forced me to kneel and pray beside my bed, but tucked me in with the assurance that I could always pray, whenever I wanted and do so in the way I saw fit. Again and again she told me that Jesus was my friend and always would be, and that no matter what had happened or in whatever trouble I would be, I could always turn to him and he would be there for me. He would listen to me without judgement, he would comfort me, forgive me and somehow direct me to the right answer or solution.
I think that’s what praying is about: stay in touch, keep the communication with God going, how difficult or even impossible it may seem at some point in your life. Keep the communication going, because SHe is always there for us, no matter what. We may always turn to God and pray, and find that Her mercy is endless, His forgiveness limitless. All our agony, our songs of praise, our halleluia’s, our cries of pain, our weeping, our muttering, our shameful stammering, SHe will always, always listen to us.

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