The First Time I Prayed

Isadora_Duncan_Students_1916Why can’t I remember the first time I prayed? Did I pray as a kid?

I did not know what praying meant as a kid. Most likely, I had images from movies or books of kids on their knees, bedside, palms together, head bowed. We definitely didn’t do THAT. We–my family–didn’t do anything. We certainly didn’t pray. And I don’t know if I talked to God or what, though I vaguely recall bargaining on dentist visit days.

I did learn to read Tarot Cards hen I was older than five but younger than nine, sometime before moving from Buffalo to Western Massachusetts. Tarot Cards had nothing to do with praying, though.

I did not know we were Jewish. Not really.

I did not know I came from a thousands-of-years-old tradition of prayer. I did, however, want to be a poet. Maybe that was as close as I came as a kid?

The first time I prayed. Really prayed. More like a conversation, or a sensation. A knowing. A physical experience. A voice without sound. A sense of being connected. A sense of something bigger. Learning the word “kindred” by a rock in a field at a hippy all-girls camp founded n the tradition of Isadora Duncan and Florence Fleming Noyes,  where danced barefoot in tunics through the ferns.

Kindred, yes. But prayer? At later summer camps and in school, I started being known as someone who had that. That thing, that sense of the Whole Universe. Maybe I was thirteen when I started calling it the Universe.

Prayer. I remember the hours following Aviva’s birth. Just me and her in our hospital room, colostrum. Liquid stars flowing from the huge black sky in me and into her, we were one. That was a form of prayer. But the first time?

I am beginning to think there was no first time. It could be that I was born not praying, but touched with that hand on the top of my head, tapped as if to say: Bring joy, little one. Which makes no sense because life really has not been that easy.

But who is to say that joy and easy are one? I believe that is a notion steeped in the West, steeped in the upper middle class in which I grew up and from which my life has drifted further and further away as my world has grown ever bigger.

Joy is not about easy. Joy is about presence and connection and perspective and the big huge vast unknowable nameless presence who touches my shoulders and I have whole-body chills.

Prayer, though? Now, yes. Now I do pray. I still love the Universe, but nowadays, I pray to God. I talk to God. I ask God questions. I send my angel posse on all kinds of fun and secret missions, and they love it. They love being employed and I am the boss and God is my boss and together, it really works well.

Prayer saves my ass. It saves me. From ruining things by seeing them myopically and through the fog of fear. Prayer wipes the windows clean and opens the door, then escorts me out in to the open.

Hope to see you there.

Image: Students of Isadora Duncan, 1916

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