I like praying the Liturgy of the Hours because, at a bare minimum, it gives me something to say to God. Not just the words of the prayers but, basically, “I’m really grateful for prayer traditions because I’d pretty much suck at having to make all this up on my own.” Instead of just being grateful for language period, it’s kind of like being grateful for slang — the shared set of references that characterize a relationship or a community.
The trouble is, that I haven’t been praying for very long and I may have read the cautionary bits in The Screwtape Letters about praying to an idol of your own idea of God rather than God too much, which makes me a little nervous about which way I’m directing these prayers and this gratitude. Especially because I’d noticed one kind of slippage in particular.
When I think of immaterial things, I tend to think of Morality, which might not be that bad as a focus of prayer, even if I need to expand it out a little. The trouble is I also think of Math, and since it’s much easier to think about clearly and distinctly, I was running into a problem. I certainly wasn’t intending to pray to the Pythagorean theorem (which would make me a very strange sort of pagan), but I was drifting away from trying to talk to a Person and over to just thinking about immaterial ideas.
So, basically, instead of fighting these thoughts, I kept thinking about whatever math concepts popped into my mind. I thought about when I’d learned them, how exciting they were, and the way I got to share that joy with my friends. Then I basically reminded myself, “God is Truth, so he totally shares your delight in these things. In fact, he delights in your delight and would love to draw you further up and further in to contemplate and be changed by higher truths in math and in everything else.”
And that meant I was basically thinking about a person and a relationship again. In my own weird little way.
The other math-related prayer hijinks came out of praying St. Patrick’s Breastplate. There’s a little litany in it near the end that goes like this:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I had prayed through the whole Breastplate right before sending an email to tell someone I was close to (and whom I though would be upset) about my conversion. And right after I hit send, I went to my anti-gravity yoga class to relax and prevent myself from checking my email obsessively for a reply.
I realized during one of the quiet meditative bits that I could still be praying. The trouble was that I hadn’t memorized very many prayers, and St. Patrick’s Breastplate was not one of them. But I figured, I might not know the litany accurately, but I know the general form. “Christ in one place, Christ in a diametrically opposed place.” That’s how I ended up praying something like this:
Christ above me, Christ below me,
Christ within me, Christ beside me,
Christ when I rise up, and Christ when I lie down,
Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives
I figured that was probably ok, as it’s totally what St. Patrick would have written if he’d been able to share in the delight of God’s creation through theoretical physics.