The year is 2002. The Boy is just four, and we are at Grandma’s house. It is early summer, evening. The Boy is preparing for bed in my old room. The windows are open and the cool blue evening breeze is blowing the curtains. The first stars stud the sky, even as the last of the day turns the horizon to pearl. Bathed and pajamaed, his hair still damp, The Boy climbs up onto the bed.
My mother tucks him in, and then she asks, “Would you like to talk to Jesus?”
And here is where things get a little sticky. Prayer does not figure large in our home, largely because I am a witch. I am raising my son using one rule–the Hippocratic Oath, a simplified version of the Wiccan Rede (If it harms none, let it be). When we feel the need for guidance we meditate, then pull out the runestones, the Tarot cards, or the scrying bowl. When we need help we invoke the appropriate image of deity and cast a spell.
So there is my son, being invited to converse with a stranger. My heart sinks. I flash back to my own childhood, when my mother was teaching me how to pray. There was a certain language (King James English), a certain set of topics in which Jesus was interested (missionaries and colporters, the Vast Harvest Field, starving people everywhere, any sins I had committed, Grandma and Grandpa’s salvation…you get the idea), and a certain posture (Kneeling Up, or standing on one’s knees, hands folded with fingers laced, head bowed, eyes closed).
“Sure,” says The Boy. He is nothing if not game. And it’s not like the concept of prayer is completely foreign to him. After all, we do come from a Christian family. He has seen the process many times. He’s seen the posture. He understands that people pray and ask God for the things they want or need. He’s just never done it.
With the confidence of someone who has no clue what he is doing, he scrambles to his knees on the bed, turns to face the window, folds his hands, closes his eyes, and says, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” (We might not know about prayer, but he’s solid on his nursery rhymes.) And then, heaving a sigh of satisfaction at a job well done, he scrambles back around, lays down, and holds up his arms for his “good night” kiss.
Grandma and I oblige. We do not look at each other. We never talk about it. I know she is horrified and saddened that my son does not know how to pray. Though I have made no real secret of my new spiritual path, neither have I actually forced the information onto my family. I have allowed them to simply see me not as a practicing witch, but as a “Backslider,” the Adventist term for members who have, in the parlance, “wandered away from the fold,” “forsaken the narrow way which is rocky and hard” for the “broad, easy way that leads to damnation,” and are “drifting.” At the time I stopped being one, the Adventist view was that while members might “backslide,” they never adopted another active spiritual path, that somehow the very rightness of Adventism had forever spoiled them for other things.
I can’t tell my mother that while The Boy might not know how to seek answers and help on his knees, he’s very good at finding his answers in Tarot cards and runes. So we just walk out of that bedroom in silence. And we never, ever, talk about the fact that my son doesn’t understand about prayer.
We don’t talk about it, but I have thought about it. I’ve thought about it a lot. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong. I think of myself, finding a quiet place in my heart (my mom kneeling), focusing my will through the use of ritual acts and words (folding her hands, closing her eyes), reaching out to Something or Someone Beyond(“Dear Jesus…” “Star light, star bright…”) grasping hold of the promise of present abundance (“we ask these things in Jesus’ name… I wish I may, I wish I might…”). I think of temples full of rats, of shrines to ancestors, of saints’ faces painted gold. I think of this beautiful, bountiful, troubled planet, all of us on it, heads bowed, holding our hands out to Something Beyond, seeking connection, and our words arise like incense, carrying our hopes, wishes and dreams, weaving a web of hope, of contrition, gratitude, and I wonder if somewhere, in a place so far beyond us and our small ideas of religion and gods as to be unimaginable, and as close to us as the children we hold to our hearts, our prayers don’t meet and become one.
So mote it be.