Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Lord, a Prince... a King?

I FIRST TRIED TO LEARN THE LORD'S prayer from an 80's pop song. Which is to say I didn't grow up very religious.


Why I learned the Lord's Prayer is not because I survived some harrowing near-death experience like, say, surviving a gunshot a quarter-inch from my heart, or narrowly missing being smashed by a bus; rather I learned it so I wouldn't be embarrassed by not knowing it again on the second day of 8th grade football practice during team prayer. If you will recall, one of the worst things you can do as a teenager is to stand out.

To conclude the first day of practice, Coach H___ton, at one end of the litmus blue sky, said, "Let us bow our heads."

Our Father, began the voice with fifty throats.

Startled, my eyes darted from face to face. Every mouth was moving but mine. The sound that September, like Doom.

I grew small.

Weeds and briars, like bony fingers, crept in through the chain-link fence. The woods, more dark than green, grew taller and taller in the fading summer light. Four walls of pines leaned in with covetous branches, each to reclaim me, the unholiest of the dandelions, from the weed-infested field-

I panicked.

What is this? And when did they all learn it? My God! Was that thunder?

I'm sorry, now I've taken Your name in vain.

What will they think if they see I don't know the words? What will You think? Does this make me a heathen, Lord? Please, oh please, just don't let anyone open their eyes!

Already damp from end-of-practice suicide sprints, my palms tingled; my sticky back ran with sweat.

As they recited in unison, I tried to mentally record the prayer, Hallowed be thy name. Yet the cadence - thy kingdom come... thy will be done... - seemed vaguely familiar.

Is that... Yes! Yes! It's "Controversy" from Prince! All that's missing is the electronic synthesizer. God, if You just let me make it through to Amen, I promise I'll go straight home, find the record, and learn this prayer. Tonight!

After dinner, before even showering, I leapt eight steps in a single bound, up to my room, to search my skimpy album collection for the Prince cut that would be my saving grace.

(Why didn't I look in the Bible? Because, Tammy, I didn't even know what the prayer was called!)

Unfortunately, my obesession with Prince began in 1984 with Purple Rain. That would be three years after the Controversy album. Which, it turned out, I did not have.


Next, I rummaged through the hand-scribbled titles in my collection of gray Maxxell cassettes - T'pau's "Heart & Soul," Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam's "Head to Toe," Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey," MC Shy D's "Got to Be Tough." I know I have this song somewhere. God, why are you doing this to me! If I show up tomorrow without knowing the words, it'll be worse than having my mom show up at school in hair rollers - worse even than wearing highwater pants!

The Prince song was nowhere to be found. I was running out of time. Besides, I had Geometry homework to do.

To take my mind off of my unbearable 13-year-old stress, I bisected some obtuse angles. Then, I showered.

The preceding nights, the Sleep Fairy had skipped over my bed. Today, I was beat-down from the first day of practice. Which is to say I was tired. I prepared for bed.

Before I learned the art of self-pleasure, I got my nighttime kicks from horror. At 13, my obessession was Stephen King.

I'd already consumed Pet Sematary [sic], The Dark Half, and The Dark Tower that summer. My reading that night happened to be the vampire tale, Salem's Lot.

As the minute-hand neared 2:30, I rose to shut the moon out of my window.

But vampires continued to multiply throughout the night, rattling burglar bars, scratching at shutters, whispering at the foot of the stairs. As I descended deeper and deeper into the chapters, every creak - every silence - made me jump.

My heart raced uncontrollably as Father Callahan stood over the bloodless body of the young Danny Glick in a graveyard. The darkness was consuming.

Which is when, buried among the pages of Stephen King, no less, I stumbled on this:

Our Father, who art in Heaven...

No way! I read on.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth, as it is...

My God! Could it be? But does it end the same way coach ended it in practice?

...the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


I stayed up till nearly 4 that morning reciting the Lord's Prayer, as one ghoul after another peeped through my pane.

But with the prayer securely in memory, I fell fast asleep for a full two hours. Better than I'd slept in days.

I was fully prepared for whatever tomorrow might bring.

1 comment:

Christina Springer said...

from Springer's Journal Prayer / Poetry

an apology to M. Ayodele Heath,
the first writing about 9/11, turning again to grief,
and the holiness of moments.
The cold wind snaps its fingers like the gay men in my college cafeteria who cheered, hissed or hooted at fashion brilliance or faux pas. It owns all current decisions. We want to succeed. We do not want to be punished by this quick whipping whimsy.

September has shed her manic depression in favor of October’s blustering frigidity. Autumn is no longer sporting the undertones of relief from slick sweating afternoons. The early trees no longer look like housewives slipping a garment off their shoulder one early-to-bed night. They look like pre-teens on the cusp of regretting their crack-whore-clothing phase.

I am humbled by the ease with which Nature shifts her moods. I am awed by her refusal to apologize for months and months on end. I am heartened by the way no one has thought to research methods to medicate her for the obvious mood swings she suffers. I am uplifted by the way we chuckle, surrender and celebrate these oppositional emotions she displays.

I wish I was so free and easy with feeling. Right now, my friend Patricia is singing, “into beauty, I am falling,(1)” like a mantra backed by poignant violins, gamboling guitars and a decent drum beat. Track 2, Connections Between The Waters Somehow, that’s how I’m feeling. “There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.(2)” It is October. I call again my belated grief. For what is grief but the act of falling into of someone’s beauty and the loss thereof?

The defining moment of this generation will be where were you on 9/11? On 9/11, I was absent from reality. I was consumed with an idea that poetry and spoken word are a universal healing force. I had fallen into a beautiful idea to which I refused surrender regardless of any other forces trying to rock my faith. Planes crashing into the World Trade Center? We have children to speak to! We have the message of individual voice to convey! We must show them through the example of our very actions that we will not be bowed down; we will not cower before your destruction; we will not stop and acknowledge your aggression. We will speak of hope, and family and love and peace. And we will bid the children to do the same. So, there Al Queda, in your face man! “We will “be the change” we want “to see in the world.”

High rhetoric and justification for what I look back on as the singular most shameful moment of my adult life. How like Bush I was in that moment. How arrogant and assumptive - that my way of being in the world suited anyone but myself. And with all of this busy madness - I had one of the most delightful voices of our generation in tow. He knuckled down - the consummate professional - and honored his agreement to speak, to educate, to perform in spite of probably feeling like he probably wanted to watch endless loops on CNN like the rest of the nation. I am brought to my knees with shame that he flowed along my wave of denial, action, re-action and serenity at any cost.

We did not stop to grieve or feel or think or digest. We poet-ed, and performed and acted and then we got him the first bus out of here. I am sorry M. Ayodele Heath, that you had the misfortune of being in my manic faith on that day. “There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.”

It’s no wonder I haven’t heard from him since. It is October, my personal month of grief. It is the time I ignore or recall the moment in time when my faith was devoured to the bone for the very first time. The month when I think or do not think of Ricardo Luis Ramos - the first dearest ever peer who died; the man who drove me to an Indiana truck stop for mashed potatoes when I was pregnant; the man who wrapped my bottom in soft white towels, then took me out dancing when my water broke; the man who had coffee spat on him at the birth of our daughter because I was too stubborn and political to tell the nurse I was crowning. Because even then, I refused surrender to bullshit and he supported that. “Magic is the act of changing consciousness at will.”(1) We refused to believe in death. And he died.

And I recall sweet Emily Ann Bailey. My daughter’s preverbal friend - a girl whose camaraderie infused my daughter’s life well before they had language to label anybody friend or foe; the girl who instant messaged back and forth from Ohio to Pittsburgh with my daughter about the fantastic way they refused surrender to stupid Cosmopolitan-Seventeen-TeenBeat idea about womanhood and beauty. Courageous where my daughter failed and timid where my daughter was bold. these girls fed each other their own unique brand of womanhood. When Emily was diagnosed with a brain tumor, they both decided -definitively and unequivocally - that she would live on and on past Imani. Emily died tragically and quietly.

It was the second time the gristle, internal viscera, tendons and organs of my faith were eaten while I was alive to watch in horror. Because my own flesh and blood had used her “magic” to sustain her friend.

“There I go again, into your beauty. Don’t let me lose myself in there.” I was lost there and there and there

again on 9/11 - never wanting to give in.

I still don’t think I want to give in. I still think I’d rather be eaten alive by optimism than emaciated slowly over a long time by despair. I forgive myself for dragging Ayodele all over town in faith. But, my dear friend Lawrence said in his recent sermon, he must give “ my absolute and unmixed attention, which is what the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil called prayer. My prayers don’t begin kneeling, with beads or a shawl, but around a quarter past six, or sometimes a quarter to seven now that the autumn is here and the morning is dark longer, and they need to be fed and wrestled into clothes and touch and dance and find quiet and sing all day long. My prayers are demanding, and I grow tired of putting on their socks and shoes through the morning and each time we get out of the car, but through them I experience the everyday world in remarkably new ways, experiences that likely would never happen without our rituals and rhythms.”(4)

This acting out - is prayer -
this bludgeoning of the world with active, personal, gentle, faith;
this being in the present moment and accepting or denying its import;
this surrender to the cannibalization of faith and feeling;
this reconstruction of self in spite and hope
this rebuilding of holiness in every moment -

this is prayer. Every small movement and motion. Every loving touch. Every suckling at my breast by my son with his wide loving, feet flailing defiant, laughing, challenging eyes fusing into my own. Every crazy untimely call from my firstborn.
This is poetry and my daily prayer.

I commit myself to “absolute and unmixed attention” to the better world at my fingertips. “Into beauty, I am falling.”

(1) “into beauty”, between the waters, album , “connection”
(2) ibid
(3) Starhawk, The Spiral Dance
(4)Lawrence Gordon Wray, ”The Seeker & The Community: Sermon for Smithton Unitarian Universalist Church.