One of the single most formative experiences in my spiritual life happened before I was about six. My family went to church every weekend. I was required to participate by saying the prayers that I knew and singing the songs, but otherwise I could sit by the kneelers and read spiritual books or look at the hymnal— something quiet that didn’t distract the people around me. I usually fell asleep during the homily. I was pretty sure you didn’t get much more boring than church, but it was never an optional thing.
One day, my family came back from receiving Communion, and my dad scooped me up. He was kneeling to pray, as one does in the Catholic church, after receiving communion. He held me, put his hands over my hands, and whispered the “Our Father” in my ears. It was so powerful for me— I always felt like church was a thing my mom made the rest of us do, and so to hear him pray and model that for me— it made a huge impression. I never really knew what they were doing after Communion. I was too little to receive it too, and they said they were praying, but it was a difficult thing to see. My dad was more remote from my daily life than my mom— he literally spent the whole year that I was five in Korea, on Air Force business, and when he was home, he worked a lot. I adored him (still do), but it was kind of that shy, from a distance kind of love, not the day-in, day-out connection I had with my stay-at-home mom.
It was hugely influential.
This weekend, I spent some time with my brother’s family. I needed to be out of the house most of the weekend, so that it could show (we are under contract), so I paid them a visit. My nephew and his family were also visiting. We all went to the church at which my brother and sister-in-law are deacons. My brother served as a deacon, and my sister-in-law served in the role of Grandma, and was sitting next to me, mostly with my great niece on her lap.
At the point in the service where we all recite the “Our Father” together, I listened to my great niece, who is five, pray the prayer into my sister-in-law’s ear. Tears started to stream down my face as I saw the parallel to my moment with my father. Later, as we waited to go to communion, my sister-in-law was reading a book, in whispers, to my great niece. This woman has been in my life since before I was as old as my great niece is now, and I thought about how likely it was that I once sat on her lap as she read to me. And how her children and grandchildren have sat on my lap as I read to them, and on her lap as she’s read to them. And I thought to myself, “This is what we do, in my family.”
And I was stunned by the beauty of it.