Kids learn a lot of things by osmosis. Things like language, prejudice, politics. Adding to this list of things, this list of p-words, I’m will also say: prayer. Kids learn to pray from us. Therefore I really don’t know what the following says about Gordon and me. Maybe you can figure it out.
The other night Drew spontaneously offered to pray before dinner like he had suddenly reached manhood over the Christmas holiday. “Pway?” he asked. Sure Drew. We held hands. And then:
Dig in everybody.
That was probably the shortest prayer I’d ever heard, and it was doubly impressive since Drew comes from a line of preachers who never met a “concert of prayer” they didn’t like.
But despite its brevity, Drew’s prayer contained the vital elements:
1. Addressing God. Drew called on the Being to whom he was praying. In this case, the Christian God, as opposed to, I don’t know, Styx, the Goddess of the Underworld. An important distinction. A vital element.
2. Sufficiency of God. He didn’t feel the need to say any other word. He just spoke Jesus’ name and closed it out, which felt more like an invitation than an invocation, a welcoming of divinity to our supper table. Which, I think, is THE most important element of prayer — making space for God where there wasn’t space before.
3. Brevity. Jesus himself told us not to go on babbling on street corners like a bunch of showoffs. And if Jesus said it, brevity must be a key element of prayer. I mean, “Jesus” isn’t even a complete phrase, let alone a sentence or Styx-forbid, a Paragraph of Prayer. No. Drew didn’t even throw in the strange “Dear” that we usually include before Jesus, as in “Dear Jesus,” as if dictating a letter to our pen pal Jesus over a meal. And he certainly didn’t do what hipsters are prone to these days in an effort to be emphatic, which is include every synonymous name for God possible — “Dear Sweetfathergodlordjesuschristjehovarapha, we just thank you for this meal, for this bounty laid before us…”
In the spirit of this observation, next week’s blog will simply be: “Thing One. Thing Two. The end.” (You’re welcome.)
4. Amen. It’s important to let everyone know we’re done praying. I know prayer is more of a way of life, of remaining open and available to God in your waking hours. I get that. I’m on board with that. But in corporate prayer, there’s nothing worse than the “prayer circle” in which participants are invited to pray as they “feel led” which means you are in for at least five or six open-ended prayers which usually conclude with, “We just thank You Lord for what you’ll do in this situation. In Jesus’ name…” Can’t you just feel those painful ellipses limping off into the ether like a dissonant chord? The next person who “feels led” must then wait an obligatory five seconds just to MAKE SURE the first person has truly finished praying and not step all over his prayer like a clumsy dance partner. My friends, this should not be. Can I get an amen? Please?
So basically, all this to say, my kid is the next Billy Graham. Profound, that one. Profound spirituality on display.
Until we came to yesterday’s nap.
Naptime is fraught with ritual. Fraught. You should know, however, that praying before naptime is not usually part of said ritual. This particular naptime had been progressing like a well-oiled machine (whatever that metaphor means) — books, cup of water, blanket in place — when again, in a moment of utter maturity and spirituality, Drew asked to pway.
“Hode hans,” he said, stretching out his to mine and to Thing Two’s, who was also present and presiding over the naptime ritual.
We held hands. Bowed our heads. Closed our eyes.
“Hap-birfday to you, hap-birfday to you, hap-birfday to Jesus. Hap-birfday to you.”
Two thoughts occurred to me:
1. They must have done this in Sunday school recently since Christmas is, technically and toddler speaking, Jesus’ birthday.
2. My child is an irreverent heretic. Probably dabbling in Wicca. Already received the Goat-blood Hex merit badge.
If you think about it, Happy Birthday is the closest we Americans come to out-and-out musical worship of another human being. Once a year, amid candles and the communion of cake, we gather to praise the guest of honor in song. The closest second runner-up is For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, which I believe went extinct in a British pub circa 1962. I’m not even sure how I’m aware of it, actually. But you just TRY to tell me the Virgin Mary didn’t sing Jesus a little song on the day of his birth in a moment of intimate worship; and if it wasn’t Happy Birthday, was probably something very similar except with more consonants. So why SHOULDN’T we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus as a prayer if we really mean it? Riddle me that, Batman. Riddle me that.
Perhaps Drew has learned something of prayer from his parents. Perhaps. But the thing I’ve learned from him is how important it is to want to do more of it.