Seth Godin, in his new book V is for Vulnerable, writes, “LMNO…used to be a single letter in the alphabet.” I get that. It was for me and I suspect it was for you, too.
Another misconception I held as a small child was that “nowalayme” was one word. I finally asked my parents what it meant. They were confused until I used it in a sentence, the only way I’d ever uttered it: “Nowalayme down to sleep…”
They smiled, glad for the chance to clarify but likely dismayed over my confusion. “Nowalayme” was not a word they said, but actually four words: “Now I lay me.” Then they explained the rest of the prayer, which although comprised of words I knew, were strung together to form meaningless phrases.
They taught me this prayer and I recited it as a nightly ritual. While I memorized their words and repeated them as instructed, I knew not what I said.
I wonder if I still do this, but in a more adult way. Have I repeated the same words so often that they no longer hold any meaning? Do they flow forth with polished practice and devoid of thought? Do I merely repeat the phrases others have prayed without considering the meaning behind them?
To my dismay, the answer is too often “Yes.” When this happens, my prayers today are no different from the “nowalayme” prayers of my past.
True prayer, I must remind myself, is not a recitation of words but a dialogue of substance.