the spark of prayer
He leans forward, eyes bright. Three Hail Marys are his. Each one he has started, and we have followed.
He is four years old, sandy brown curls flopped in his eyes. His brothers have taken turns leading decades for weeks, and now he clamors for his chance, with all the gusto of younger siblings.
He knows more than I realize. He hesitates in spots, but with a glance and a gentle prompt, his eyes sparkle again and he is off.
Here is where he catches me. That breath between “…the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” and “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”
Where the prayer pauses. Where the first half ends and the second begins. Where Jesus meets Mary, child meets mother, leader meets follower, call meets response, breath meets breath, prayer meets prayer.
I see the spark – in his eyes, in my body, in the space between us. It is the rare dazzle of holy.
. . .
Before I was bored, I am unashamed to admit.
Catholic school kid in the pew, winding plastic beads around my hand. Not my thing.
Grumbling teenager, slipping away from the funeral home wake. Not my way to pray.
Tuned-out adult, mumbling halfheartedly, pretending to know the prayers. Not my spirituality.
But now I am becoming the child again. Eyes bright and open, voice stronger for listening, joy in learning a new thing and leading it for others.
Next are the luminous mysteries. Do you know what luminous means? Full of light.
We are learning together, beads threading through our hands.
We are walking into mystery. Energy hums in this habit that I never expected. The space between “Jesus” and “holy,” between “thy womb” and “mother of God.”
I watch their eyes sparkle. We are in, together.
. . .
What if we prayed more like this? I wonder.
Sundays at Mass we stand with duty and recite the Credo: I believe. But it’s tired and rote. We mumble. There is no spark.
We do not take seriously what we speak: I believe there is a God who exploded the universe into being; I believe a human was born who was also divine and he died and then lived and changed everything; I believe I will live forever.
But we trip on strange jumbles of phrase: begotten, consubstantial, incarnate. We used to know what we were saying, but then they changed the words, and will they change them again, and what do they mean anyway?
I remember a boy’s eyes blue with light, cheeks flushed with grin. The flash between thy womb, Jesus, and Holy Mary, mother. What if we could rediscover that Spirit spark? Would we lean in like him, listening, learning, ready to lead?
Unless you become like one of these children, you cannot enter the kingdom.
I claim to follow the God-man who said it. Do I believe it?
. . .
The boys divvy up each decade. I am given the leftovers, only one Hail Mary to lead. But when my turn comes at last, I’m startled by my own voice. Brimming with gentle joy and quiet wonder. I am not a tired mother. I am full of something like grace.
The words taste different in my mouth. I have borrowed their spark. “The Lord is with you.” Underlined with awe, ended with exclamation, an opening into unexpected. What if I believed it, with each breath of my day, with each small hand I held?
Sunday morning, I’m stirred to speak the Credo words with joy. To proclaim, not just profess. To believe what I say I believe.
I open a worn hymnal to sing. Amazing Grace, and the hymn is true. Notes soar to the top of the church, a crescendo of Credo, our voices reaching toward something we believe but do not understand.
The hour I first believed. The evening we started to pray.