Early Morning Prayers

I don’t like mornings. I’d prefer not to see most hours of them. Springing forward and having to get up that morning in the dark is a mechanical sort of torture for me. No hope. No mercy. Just darkness every morning for weeks. I’ve been this way almost since I was born (I made my appearance just after 7am, so I like to say that it was the only time I willingly got up early).

When I was in middle school, my brother (even more squinty-eyed in the mornings than I am) declared that even God wasn’t up yet and he didn’t see why he should have to be up either. I adopted the phrasing, but I did sometimes have such terrible early mornings (fights breaking out near me in the school gym, betrayal by a once-friend, arguments, missed homework, word of new terrorist attacks, rumors of wars and battles and deployments, flat tires, deaths) that I have been glad to know that God does not, in fact, sleep.

In time, I came to imagine that God the Father has passed off those dreadfully chipper mornings to God’s inexplicably early-rising Son. And so, like the Greek celestial siblings Helios (sun god), Selene (moon goddess), and Eos (dawn goddess), the parts of the trinity pass their duties from one to the next based on the hour in the Eastern Time Zone of North America. At times, surely, they are all three awake (it’s 6am somewhere on this planet) and I can talk to any of them and the Bible tells of all three doing unique things in the same scene at the same time. But on bitterly cold, grey-blue mornings on the bus or not-quite-dozing in my mother’s little car, I imagined those prayers going to answering machines while God the Father took five more minutes and the Holy Spirit grunted over a mug of coffee while Jesus took careful notes.

Now then. About two years ago my roommate and I felt called to foster children. We went from single friends excited about Shark Week and trying to catch up on our respective weekly Bible studies to temporary mothers of three traumatized children under three years old. I don’t know when the last time that baby had had a full stomach—he ate for two days as if it’d been weeks—and the older boys hadn’t been vaccinated since they were each nine months old. Their legs were also so badly bowed that I worried they might jump and their femurs just snap.

Putting them to bed the night they came to us was horrific. All three screamed—screamed—for two hours. No amount of cuddling or patting or shushing or singing soothed them. One would calm, then another, then the third would scream and start the others up again. Even putting them all in different rooms, they could hear the others crying and screamed in solidarity. Even the baby. Separating the older two proved to be a bad idea because they were afraid and had likely always slept together. Still, eventually, one by one, they screamed and cried themselves to sleep.

It took my roommate and I a bit longer to drop off ourselves: we lay on the couches in the living room under blankets scrounged from other parts of the house, clutching the baby monitors to our ears at the least rustle, reaching a leg from beneath the blankets to rock the two-month old in his bassinet every time he woke or fussed in his sleep.

At 6am, I was feeding the baby. It was dark and I hurt all over from physical and emotional exhaustion. I squeezed by eyes shut to try to pray, but that hurt, too, so I relaxed them. The pre-dawn grey light filtered through the slits of the blinds behind me and, for the first time, I felt thankful for morning. The easy light. The gradual way God brings the world into wakefulness. I sent the simplest snatches of prayers to whichever member of the Trinity had early-morning duty.

After a few minutes of “Thank you for this little boy,” “Thank you they slept so long,” “Please let him fall back asleep,” “Everything hurts,” “Please get us through,” “Thank you for this moment,” “It’s so early,” and similar prayers, I found myself grateful the Spirit is up, too, interpreting these bare words and literal groans into something sensible. I imagined Jesus on his knees and leaning against a Gethsemane rock, face aloft, attentive and squinting one eye, listening to my prayer, confused. Then I pictured him reaching over one sandaled foot to nudge the Spirit awake. The Spirit jerks and his mouth falls open before his eyes do, already interpreting my prayers to Jesus, who’s face relaxes.

With that image, I rocked the baby and opened my connection to the Spirit, focusing on the tightness in my upper back, the aching behind my eyes, the pulling at my scalp, sharing each with the Spirit. By this I believe the Spirit told Jesus all I hope for, how worn down I am, how afraid. I felt love radiating back to me, and the comfort of Someone just listening, understanding.

By the end of that day, the boys were with different families, my roommate and I were two single women watching Shark Week once again, exhausted and far behind where we should have read for the week’s Bible studies.

Though that morning two years ago was a meaningful prayer time for me, I haven’t tried to replicate it. Part of this, of course, is because mornings are terrible. But I think it’s also because I’m not used to praying in the dark. Darkness is for sleeping and stargazing and spy movies. We feel like we’re doing something we shouldn’t or slacking off if we aren’t praying with our eyes shut at a florescent-lit conference table or beside the brightest lamp in the living room (conveniently placed by the squishiest armchair, of course). Frankly, we feel like we’re wrong if we pray with our eyes open, too.

Despite my private jokes, though, God doesn’t need to be awakened and God doesn’t trisect God’s self to lessen the load around the clock. God neither nudges a part of the Trinity awake nor needs a poke in the ribs from me. Literally, any place and any environment is a good place to pray. You might need a bright lamp to read your Bible or journal prayers, and you may need some sunlight to help keep you awake, yet darkness is also a fine place to pray. Dawn and day and night and twilight and many other hairsplitting terms for mere moments on the clock can describe a moment you need to pray, an opportunity you may or may not take to pray.

This morning, as I read in Matthew 3 of Jesus’ baptism, I’m praying for those three boys again, two years older, who I held on the worst day of their lives.

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