I still pray every night and I don't know why. This bedtime ritual is one of the last vestiges of faith that I have left, and I'm not quite sure why that is. I've held onto this since childhood, when I said the childhood bedtime prayer. For years I said it without realizing what it meant-the words run together, one follows the other, it's like a song, a cadence, and if you were asked to explain a phrase it contained, you'd be lost. The way that a young child learns the Alphabet song, precocious to smiling parents and running together, "elleminahpy." When I actually thought about the words, the shiver of mortality made me squirm--we're kids, we're not supposed to think about this stuff.

As a good Catholic girl, I learned how to say the Sign of the Cross. I was six years old, and I was told by my Sunday School teacher that you should make the Sign of the Cross before and after your prayer. Having already graduated from my Now I Lay Me days into a string of penance-like Our Fathers and Hail Marys, I misunderstood this information, and believed that the Sign of the Cross was like a header/footer to a prayer, a signal to begin and end transmission to heaven, that God wouldn't listen to your prayers without them, and alternated between chastising myself for not knowing any better and wondering angrily how such important information could have been kept from me.

This was also around the time I developed a fascination with the lives of the saints. It was the asceticism that fascinated me more than anything else, that denial of the flesh could make miracles happen. At seven years old I pondered in awe at the courage of a girl twice my (then) age who would choose death rather than let herself be defiled. I prayed every night because I wanted to be a saint, and I figured that that was as good a way to start out as any.

I was eleven years old, and I made a Lenten resolution to pray the rosary every night before bedtime. I faithfully stuck to this for the forty days, often waking up to find beads in my back because I fell asleep in the middle of the Hail Mary. The habit stuck for a while. Once Lent was over, I didn't feel right stopping, and it became a ritual. I really liked the Glory Be I said at the end of each decade the best, it's a simple, beautiful prayer. As it was in the beginning, now, and ever shall be. I must have been the most sleep-deprived child at my school, what with taking an hour after bedtime to say the Hail Mary and getting up at five in the morning to work out every day. I said prayers before meals I would pretend to eat. Instead of saints I now idolize models, replacing one form of asceticism with another.

As I grew older, I eschewed the use of prayers learned through rote memorization in exchange for personal prayers, for talking with God. No more whispered magic spells as I drift into dreams. In my nighttime prayer ritual, I would thank God for the day that he had given me, for things that I have. I ask for protection of my friends and family.

This is the practice that I still engage in, despite the fact that I consider myself more agnostic than anything else. My mom tells me that going to college has spoiled me. I choose to think that I'm more enlightened. Truth is, I take after my father. He wanted to believe but he just couldn't make himself...he needed proof and found none. He studied religion, he studied the Bible, Aquinas, read, and read and read. Faith didn't come easily for him...and it doesn't for me either. Sometimes I envy the people who can believe without question, the same way I envy people who can fall in love so easily, without a thought.

I really like praying before I fall asleep however. Perhaps I am praying to myself, to the universe, to whatever it is that is out there. Maybe I'm praying to cellular automata. Reaffirming what I want in my life, meditation, a ritual that induces peace.

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