"Mommy, what is prayer?" a seven-year old girl spouted, while tugging on her mother's hand, her gaze remained fixed on me.
Fumbling for words, the mother drew a blank and turned to me with expectant eyes, waiting for an answer.
Having grown up in a family where praying was like oxygen – we had to have it – I was mystified. How does a child arrive at this age and not know about prayer?
"Well," I stammered, "it's a way of talking to God," was my worried response. "We pray out loud or in our thoughts."
Have you ever tried giving a crash course in praying? Second only to the facts of life, it was the most difficult thing I've had to explain.
Feeling totally incapable and not really knowing what I was going to say, my only hope was to pray, "Help!"
Relying on the Divine to put words in my mouth, I replied with trepidation.
"When we pray, we…we," I said, stuttering over interpreting what was foreign to her and yet so intuitive to me. With little time to waste, I fretted articulating a practice handed down from one generation of my family to the next – all without words, only actions, like genetic code, powerfully determining who we are, how we think, act and live.
As self-doubt encroached, who was I really – a sinner, a total work in progress, still wrestling with God after all these years, to teach an innocent about a most holy act?
Riding solely on the wings of faith, nothing more, I said, "We talk to God. We ask God to be with us, to help us. We put God in charge to guide us. Sometimes we thank God for big things, little things –everything."
That was nearly eight years ago, when I was enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a local hospital. As a CPE student, I learned and practiced how to minister to the sick and dying and their families – no matter their religious affiliation – wherever they may be – in hospitals, care centers or in their own homes.
In this case, I was tending to pre-operation patients, and this youngster was about to have her tonsils out.
After asking the mother if I could pray over her child, she agreed. I bowed my head and with closed eyes asked God to cover the little one and her family with God's unwavering grace, to place a hedge of protection around them now and evermore, to give them strength and courage and faith. Amen.
Strangely since those predawn hours, that question, "Mommy, what is prayer?" continues to call.
Still puzzling, I understand there are many who don't share in this spiritual resource eternally at our disposal.
In the U.S. alone, surveys reveal the number of people who say prayers on a regular basis; including saying grace before meals is dwindling. Even so, this centuries-old practice still is touted as a method of coping.
Whether we express a simple "Now I lay me down to sleep…" utterance of gratitude recalled from a rote childhood memory or read a Psalm, praying can give us much needed perspective on life, including simple prayers, like…
Make me patient.
Give me faith.
Help me do a good job.
Give me a fresh perspective.
Give me a break.
While volumes have been written on the power and importance of prayer, thirteenth century philosopher and theologian, Meister Eckhart puts it simply, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
As the holidays approach, beginning with Thanksgiving, a day we set aside to show gratitude, many of us proceed with anxiety over the co-mingling of stress and joy at this time of year.
In all of the hustle and hassle of the coming weeks, I am praying for you. May you be a recipient and deliverer of these most profound and potentially life-changing words, "Thank you," two words that just might be an answer to prayer.
2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on FaceBook.