As a girl I didn’t know my grandparents. Three died before I was born and the fourth, a grandmother, lived 3 provinces away and didn’t speak the same language as I did. I met her twice. I remember visiting the farm in Manitoba where she lived with one of my uncles. I might have been 4 or 5, not yet in school. With a yellow crayon, my grandmother drew me a picture of a baby chick. I can still remember the tentative communication between us, her hand touching mine as she offered me the drawing.
I’m a grandmother myself, now, though I’ve never drawn a baby chick for my grandsons. I still wonder deep down what it might have been like to be nurtured by a grandparent, just that one step removed from the discipline and familiarity of a parent.
Not long after I started work at Our Place, a community drop-in centre that strives to provide hope and belonging, along with meals, showers, programing and transitional housing for folks in need in downtown Victoria, one of the staff members started coming in on her morning break to use the telephone in the Spiritual Care office. Every morning she would call home to talk to her granddaughter before she left for school. Every morning, try as I might not to, I eavesdropped on their conversation. After the usual housekeeping questions, “Have you got your lunch, your umbrella, your boots?” it was “Now, let’s pray.” Each morning the grandmother prayed with her granddaughter: for a good day at school, for patience and forgiveness, for readiness to learn, for cooperation, for good thoughts and gentle words, for wisdom, for courage and discernment. For the willingness to accept others as they were, and for the courage to expect others to love and accept her as she was. And always, at the end of the prayer, “… not my will, but yours, God. Amen.”
Maybe it was the practical wisdom in the prayer, or the deep trust in that daily ritual to guide, support, uplift and reinforce a little girl’s spirit throughout the long day in kindergarten, grade one, grade two…somehow I couldn’t help but find myself moved and encouraged by the grandmother’s prayer. There was something missing on the days I came in late or had meetings that conflicted with those morning prayers. I began to find myself modeling my own prayer on the same practical pattern of asking for help with my day to day living, for the ability to accept others as they are, to forgive and be forgiven, to give thanks for all that I had received, and to become willing to surrender my own will to a greater love and wisdom.
I freely admit to struggling with prayer over the years, both in practice and in concept. True to North American individualist tradition, I have read (and reread) books on prayer and tried various practices, Christian and otherwise, from spoken prayer and psalms to centering prayer and meditation, from sung prayers and chanted mantras to silence and fasting. All have been gift and grace. But for me, the greatest lesson has been the simple and sincere prayers of a grandmother. The yellow crayoned prayer of a grandmother reaching out across the barriers of distance and language, the spoken words of comfort and courage reaching out across the telephone line.
Rev. Julianne Kasmer is part of the Spiritual Care Team at Our Place Society.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, March 3 2017