In Contempt of: Children’s Prayers

by Mike Anthrope on August 4, 2013


In Contempt of: is a semi-comedic column that celebrates all the things I can’t stand…

little boy prayingEvery night before I went to bed when I was a kid, my Ma and I would kneel down, leaning on the edge of my race car bed, and we would pray. My Ma loved to pray, always clutching a set of rosary beads to her chest and offering up dozens of prayers that neither my brother nor I would come to harm, or that my father would find a better job, or that our lost dog, Colby, would return. But none of her prayers were ever answered. My brother and I, during the course of our perpetual mischief, were forever being trucked off to the emergency room to get our various wounds sewn shut and to have x-rays on our myriad broken bones, after we jumped our bikes over the road and fell from the branches of tall trees. My father continued to work a stamp press at a factory that made bottle caps for twenty-five years. And old Colby, well, his whereabouts remained a mystery.

At night, the prayer me and Ma said is a classic standard known to children throughout the world, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” I came to hate that prayer more than just about anything in my life. I absolutely dreaded it. The recitation of those words always set off a wave of panic in me, for what other purpose could a prayer like that possibly serve but to engender massive anxiety. No wonder I’m so neurotic.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.” That part made sense, I guess. I would think, I am going to sleep. Fair enough.

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” This is where the nerves started to kick in and the confusion began to escalate. I knew the Lord was Jesus hanging there on the cross of our local church looking skyward in agony, but I also couldn’t help thinking about my uncle Lou, who, one time when our families were out bowling, threw a strike and turned to look at us with his arms raised above his head saying, “I am the lord of the manor.” Did Jesus bowl?

And if Jesus was going to keep my soul, then where would He keep it? And if it could be kept, then what form did it take? Was it something you could put on a hanger in the closet like my father’s work shirts that had his name, Frank, sewn on a patch below the left shoulder? Would mine say Mike? Would the Lord’s closet be filled with other similar shirts, an endless rack of them: George, Kelly, Byron, Tabitha, Alfonse, stretching out for a million miles? And how long was He supposed to keep my soul? Forever? Or I would I get my soul back at some point down the road? On and on the questions swirled.

“If I die before I wake…” Now the anxiety was really heating up. Why would I die before I wake? Was there something I needed to know about? Was there some terrible and immediate danger that would cause me to die? My grandfather died while he was sleeping, but he was old so that sort of made sense. But I was young, barely six. It didn’t seem fair that me and him were somehow lumped into the same pool of folks who would die before morning.

Also when I thought of dying, I thought of a lightning bug I had caught in a wire cage designed for precisely this purpose. I let it out then tapped on it with a little plastic hammer until its light slowly faded out and did not relight. That was death. I cried hysterically about it and then I took the bug’s corpse and placed it in an envelope and tried to bury it in a flower pot in the front yard. I don’t know how I knew about burial rituals. Would my light flicker out like the bug’s?

“I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I thought He was going to keep it. But now He was going to take it. But take it where? To his closet? This step seemed out of sequence, because if He was going to keep it wouldn’t he need to take it first? What did it all mean, the Lord, my soul, dying? What did it all mean? What could I do about any of it? Pray I guess.

And then Ma would pull the covers up around my neck and kiss me on the forehead, before she closed my door halfway, leaving me there in the darkness. “Night, night. Sleep tight,” she would say.

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Mike Anthrope

Mike Anthrope is a comedian based in Los Angeles. Originally from Chicago, where he worked in a used auto parts store, Mike has traveled the world in search of trivial things that disgust him so that, by their omission, he might discover the things he loves.

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