In which the bad Catholic prays.

I don’t usually pray. Not more than the standard, “God, please don’t let me get into an accident,” or “Thank you, God for the insert-whatever-it-is-that-I-am-grateful-for.” I’ll admit to having conversations with a wide array of entities, ghosts and other figments, but certainly I don’t say any formal prayers – not when I’m not in a church, surrounded by a crowd of limply chanting parishioners. Not since whenever it was during childhood that I stopped saying prayers while kneeling beside my bed.

Recently, I volunteered to say a rosary for someone. I’m not really sure why; I just sort of said I’d do it, and then I was surprised at myself.

Maybe because the rosary is the heaviest of all the prayers I know. It’s the most loaded with superstitions from my home faith, and is loaded with the most meaning from my own childhood. It’s hoodoo. It is Big Medicine. It represents some of the biggest spiritual guns I can lay hands on. The last time I prayed the rosary, it was the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001, and I was driving home to my parents’ house after one of my first weeks as a reporter, feeling beat and afraid and worn out by the news I was covering. So pulling out the rosary isn’t something I do lightly.

Now, by “pulling out” the rosary, I don’t mean I pulled out the actual beads, because although I turned the house upside down, I could not find those. Never mind that the little white case with my First Communion rosary beads is one of the items that always seems to surface in drawer or boxes. I could not find them anywhere.

So I started without them. On my fingers. One Our Father (how embarrassing – without a congregation murmuring around me, I forgot the last two lines), 10 Hail Marys, one Glory Be. All that, five times for the first of what are, intriguingly, termed “mysteries.” The actual “mysteries” are events in the life of Mary, and as you pray each of the four cycles,  you’re supposed to be meditating on one of these Marion life events. Like so many people, I’m praying for something a little more terrestrial, so I focused my attention on the people for whom I’m praying.

My first thought – another surprise – was that it is so much like yogic meditation. The whispered prayers regulated my breath – “Hail Mary”on an inhalation, “Holy Mother”  on an exhalation. The pattern of my breath forced my voice into a soothing up and down, and by the second group of Hail Marys, my mind was clear. By the third, it was focused like a laser on the object of my prayer.

Focus like that, when I try to meditate, takes a lot of effort. I was shocked; the string of prayers I sprinted through as a child was able to give me the peace I strive for weekly, on the yoga mat.

I don’t subscribe, particularly, to organized religion. I’ve experimented with all kinds of religions, and in the end, I kept some elements of each for my private spiritual path and rejected the institutions. As for Catholicism,  I still belong to a congregation, but I have some real big issues with the Catholic church, and I think those issues will probably prevent me from being an active part of any congregation. But now I’m beginning to wonder if maybe  – despite my issues – I can still benefit from Catholicism and its trappings.

I’m going to do the second group of mysteries tonight. Maybe I’ll learn something else. Or maybe the prayers will find their mark.

2 thoughts on “In which the bad Catholic prays.

  1. There are countless times when I find myself craving ritual—the comfort of it, the precision of it, the repetitiveness of it.

    It seems to me that, issues notwithstanding, the ritual itself has value. After all, think of the centuries of compounded energy that’s inherent in this learned thing.

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