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7 May 2007

Mantra

I learned too little from my grandfather, but what I did learn I will remember, and repeat, forever.

My Grandpa taught me how to pray.

I must have been seven or eight years old. I was spending the weekend at their house while my parents were out of town.

Those were special occasions. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV or eat sugar at home, but Saturdays at Grandma’s house I crawled out of bed at four a.m., poured a bowl of Count Chocula and watched cartoons with the volume down until my eyes hurt.

I was ready for bed, I’d brushed my teeth and put on my footed pajamas and I was already planning out my schedule of Transformers and Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the next day. I was ready to be tucked in. Then he asked me if I’d said my prayers.

I can only imagine the blank look I’m sure he recognized on my face. He might as well have asked me if I’d milked the cows.

So we kneeled down together at the foot of the fold-out couch. He started, and I repeated after him.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

I’d said other prayers, in Sunday school, at the dinner table. But that was the first one I learned by heart. We said it that first time together, and he made me write it down. When I got home, I copied it to a yellow Post-It and stuck it on my bed.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

I said it every night, kneeling on the floor the way he showed me, the way I recognized from greeting cards and children’s books. I don’t know how long it lasted, but by the time the Post-It lost its stick and fell down behind the bed, I could say the whole thing from memory.

Give us this day our daily bread…

I’m sure it wasn’t long before I started to forget to say it every night, and eventually I stopped saying it at all. Except in church on Sunday, with my Grandpa standing nearby.

It’s been a long time, but I can still recite it for you. The Presbyterian version he taught me (debts/debtors) and the Anglican version I learned later (trespasses/those who trespass against us). But I don’t say it very often anymore, at church or at my bedside.

…and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

The summer after I graduated from high school, I told my parents I wouldn’t go to church with them anymore. I said something about how I wasn’t sure I believed all the things we said together there, the same words from the same book every week. I’m sure I believed my own justifications, but I’m also sure I was tired of getting up early on Sundays.

I tried a few different churches while I was in college, but never for more than a few weeks at a time. I was too skeptical, too uncomfortable, too busy. I had too many excuses.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

If you asked me now, I’d tell you that what I believe is complicated. Which isn’t an answer at all. It means I don’t want to talk about it. It means I still have excuses.

What my Grandpa believed wasn’t complicated, but it wasn’t easy either. What he shared with me—and anybody who would listen—was a simple message, but a heavy burden. One that he carried, along with so many others, and made it seem light.

What I should have learned from him then, but took too long to comprehend, was the power of words repeated, and lived by.

A job worth doing is worth doing well.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever amen.

I learned too little from my grandfather, but what I did learn I will remember, and repeat, forever.