Progressive Christian Channel
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: A Theodicy of Prayer
While I now reject several of the above examples as valid spiritual entreaty, no matter what Christian outlet my soul has been plugged into—even during my tenure of "willful unknowing"—I have always felt a connection to my Maker through prayer.
My eyelids close; I find that mantra state with my eyes just so; I plug in. Sometimes there are words. Sometimes it's perhaps what amounts to Eastern meditation.
Always, there is Connection. Faith. Realized.
Somewhere beyond the outskirts of Time and Space, there is a Maker. And I commune with Him. Or Her. Or It. However you want to refer to the Omnipresent Prime Mover. Trust me, She Who Belched the Universe into Existence isn't the least bit offended. He is the Flying Spaghetti Monster as much as the AMAZING TECHNICOLOR TETRAGRAMMATON.
. . .
I remember the first prayer that raised the hair on the back of my spiritual hide.
My dad expressed his gratitude to God for a primo parking space in downtown Minneapolis. We were on our way to a Minnesota Twins baseball game. I had recently returned from a missions trip to Haiti, during which I had held the proverbial "starving baby" in my arms. I thought: "How could God honestly care whether we walk one block or six blocks to watch men hitting balls with wooden sticks, while babies are being left to rot all across our world?"
Still today I wonder how God honestly could be bothered with my first-world problems, when millions of people have just been displaced by the world's first super typhoon, plus 1,001 other examples of the problems of theodicy.
Yes, it would be ideal if my mom could continue seeing. But maybe that situation is best left to the miracles of modern science. Seriously, Jehovah-jireh, how about raining down shelter like manna upon the people of the Philippines?
I best proceed with caution. Never point a finger at Santa Claus.
. . .
I have a five-year-old daughter. Our bedtime prayer session is a carefully-crafted litany which has accreted and coalesced over time, almost like a coral reef. Hours of parental "strategery" have been invested in this nightly spiritual ritual.
First, there is tradition. "Now I lay me down to sleep..." This is the prayer of my own youth, a prayer handed down to my daughter.
Then there is obedience. "Our Father, Who art in Heaven..." This is the prayer Christ taught us to pray. Plain and simple.
Then there is scholarly consideration. "Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν. / Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner." This is the Eastern Orthodox "Jesus Prayer." One of the great prayers of Christian history. It is the prayer I recite silently while queuing for the Eucharist. (Shh, don't tell Rome.) This prayer reminds us that our religion derives from many ages and languages.
Finally, there is the "coral reef prayer": prayers for mommy and papa and grandparents and extended family and classmates and those who are sick and pets; prayers of thanksgiving for libraries and zookeepers and good doctors and books and toys and whatever else pops into my daughter's creative mind; hopes that humanity will come to revere life itself and shepherd the planet more respectfully. There's even a little prayer where my daughter asks God to watch over our home, which includes the recitation of our address and telephone number. (Prayer, after all, has its mnemonic qualities.) It all ends in traditional Evangelical-ese: "In Jesus' name, Amen."
Arik Bjorn is a writer who lives in Columbia, South Carolina. His educational background includes archaeology, ancient languages, and biblical studies. He has run the gamut of Christian experience, from Evangelical to Orthodox catechumen to live-in Episcopalian sexton to Roman Catholic. Follow Arik on Twitter @arikbjorn and on Facebook.