For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘prayer

This morning started out rough. B woke up early, then melted down from tiredness, then we got stuck in 45 minutes of traffic on the ride to school. To fill time in traffic, I introduced B to new music: Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Hymn Book.

B loves music, and we have been intentional about teaching him our favorites. For J, that means The Beatles. For me, that means the songs of the church. The music of the church is my deepest connection to God. When I need strength or hope or intimacy with God, I start to sing. My great-grandmother taught me to love the old hymns like “Whispering Hope” and “In the Garden.” My children’s choir directors filled me with “Apple Red Happiness” and “Do Lord.” During youth group, church camp and retreat years, I learned “Sanctuary” and “Pass It On” and “It’s Amazing.” In college, we sang social justice with “City of God,” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice” and “We Shall Overcome.” In every church I’ve served, I have learned new songs as I learned more about God, and the songs hold that faith understanding for me.

Increasing my repertoire of songs increases my repertoire of faith. They are a reservoir of strength, courage, insight, hope and grace. These songs of my heart have shaped my understanding of God, and they are my testimony to God’s love. I want to pass the songs on to B as they were passed on to me, so that he too can have such a supply of faith-filled words and melodies to draw on when he needs them.

And so this challenging morning I removed The Beatles from the CD player and stuck in My Mother’s Hymn Book. With a touch of irony as we sat in traffic, the song that swept us away today was “I Shall Not Be Moved.” This is one of my heart’s songs, and it often comes to me when I am facing difficulty or conflict. I sing it as a mantra of encouragement and strength when I feel weak or afraid.

This morning we played it over and over. Johnny Cash, B and I sang our hearts out. For the first time, B continued to belt out the melody line when I switched to harmony, so we became a trio of young and old, unison and harmony, wisdom and innocence. I went from grousing to laughing, and then to crying with joy at the crazy beauty of this one moment. When we finally got to preschool, 20 minutes late, we stayed in the car together to sing it one more time. I did not want the moment to end.

B will not likely remember this moment. Perhaps, though, with enough repetition, he will learn this song by heart. Someday, when he needs it most, this song might come into his heart and bring him faith, encouragement, strength, grace, the love of God and of his mother.

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, St. Martin’s Griffen, 2009.

Alright, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m done with books about women quilting as a way to communicate, to create art, to tell stories, to bond with other women, whatever. It was interesting for awhile as a path to reclaim women’s voices in an era that silenced them, but the flood of articles, monographs, novels, museum exhibits and PBS specials has just made me feel really over it. Especially over novels that build around women’s quilting relationships.

Sorry, Ms. Dallas, that your novel happened upon my path after I had hit my limit.  I may have felt differently had I read it five years ago.

The premise of the book sounded intriguing—described on the back as the story of “an unlikely friendship between two women and the secrets they’ve kept in order to survive.” Really, though, it was a collection of short stories that were pasted together onto the frame story of the women’s friendship and secrets. It wasn’t bad, but the frame story just did not move me. The two main characters, Hennie Comfort and Nit Spindle, felt more like types than complex, living people. The thing about the quilts binding them together just felt tired, and the plot line between the women felt too forced.

What I liked about the book were the small stories that filled it out. It was like reading a collection of folk takes—brief, pithy, moralizing, unrelenting in their honesty. Dallas had clearly done a lot of research into the gold mining culture, and discovered or reinvented stories that opened up life in this remote, isolated subculture. She captured the storytelling voice very well, but the book’s overall voice captured my attention, but not my imagination.

I bought the book because of the title, and I was intrigued by the concept of prayers for sale. Hennie Comfort has the sign in her front yard, and it comes from her happiness with her life. She says, “I was so happy that I had nothing else to pray for. ‘Why,’ says I, ‘I’ve got prayers to sell!’ … I’ve got an abundance of prayers.” (p. 71) That image did not disappoint, and I will look forward to holding on to it. What a thing to imagine, that we all might be so happy and blessed that we have prayers left over we sell to others.

While I wish the rest of the book had maintained that poignancy and let go of the overdone quilting thing, it was still a relaxing and enjoyable read.

Tonight at bedtime, I led B. in the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. When we finished, he said, “I want another one.” So I started on the Lord’s Prayer, but he interrupted me to remind me, “Hey Mommy, when I was at your church today, they had chips. I really like those chips.”

We had just been talking about his role as a sheep in the pageant next week, so I thought of Psalm 23. He is interested by shepherds, and knows that they protect sheep and lambs, so it seemed like a good approach. I just shared the first few lines, through “God restores my soul.” Trying to explain a metaphor was not easy.

Me: “You know what a shepherd does, right? So if God is like a shepherd, who does God look after? God looks after you–protects you, gives you good food like green grass, and good water to drink. Takes care of everything you need.”

B was nodding affirmatively, so I thought this was making some degree of sense to him. Until he started repeating what he had learned. The conversation went something like this:

B: “But I don’t like water.”

Me: “Yes you do, you just drank water.”

B: “I like that kind of water, but I don’t like the kind of water like sheep drink. That’s yucky.”

Me: “Yes, that’s true. Sheep water would be yucky. But I’m sure God would give you good water you would like.”

B: “So God will be the pretend shepherd and I will be the pretend sheep?”

Me: “Well, not pretend exactly. It’s just that what God does to take care of us is like what a shepherd does to take care of the sheep.”

B: “God is a shepherd–that’s silly. I think I want to be a cat.”


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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