By Kurt Baumann
This post is the first in a two-part series.
In one of Bil Keane’s Family Circus cartoons, Billy, the oldest son, is doing homework, and asks: “What is the greatest power?” Each one of the characters has a thought balloon that shows their opinion. Youngest son P.J. thinks of a thunderstorm, middle son Jeffy thinks of a supersonic jet plane, Daddy thinks of a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb, and Mommy thinks of daughter Dolly, praying at bedtime, implying prayer. I’d say Mommy’s answer is the best one.
When I was about four years old, I remember bringing up the subject of prayer to my Mom and I think she found the Traditional Prayer Before Bedtime in a book of prayers. From then on, Mom sat at the end of my bed listening as I recited my Sunday School lessons, until I was Confirmed (my Lutheran church’s ritual passage into adulthood), kissed Mom goodnight, and went to sleep. These lessons helped develop a talented memory.
Every night, Mom listened to me as I prayed the same prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
In the last line, I unconsciously substituted “keep” for “take”, without realizing it. I hope God forgave me.
Growing up, my religious instruction began in a Lutheran Church. Starting with my Baptism, three days after my birth, it progressed to going to Sunday school, every Sunday during the school year, and a church service with my family afterward. Sunday School was my favorite subject, because I was good at it. Summer school was held two to three weeks held, from 9:00 to 11:00, in the morning. People thought I had a gift, but I really excelled because the same stories were told, every year, and I never forgot them.
After two years of Instructions, religious education that taught young people about the Lutheran faith and how to be good church members, I was Confirmed. After a public oral Examination, in front of the congregation, I was made a member of the congregation. Actually, a person was Confirmed, no matter how badly they did during the Examination.
I was allowed to attend Communion with my parents and expected to usher during the services. I remember, before my I ushered my first communion, Mom coached on me what to do, so that I didn’t make a fool of myself, which might reflect on her and my family. Subtly, I was taught that our denomination was the one and only—and all others were blasphemous sinners.
I was a total fraud.
In hindsight, I didn’t really learn my prayer or lessons, as much as I parroted them. Reciting my memory lessons, like a human cassette recorder, was easy—but I didn’t learn anything. Although my peers were happy, I was fooling them and myself, with my talented memory and going through the familiar motions of my church.
The truth is, prayer and God didn’t mean much to me until later on.
Every night, after I talk to God, I include other people. I call this My Usual Liturgy. In a project for True Stories Well Told, I diagrammed text boxes, joined with lines of patterns of thought connecting with each other to illustrate it.
It is made up of
- My Family
- Fellow humanity
- Faith Communities I’ve Been Part of
- The “Please Watch Over List”
On the next page is My Family. In the beginning they were the only people I had any contact with growing up. Over the years, through birth, death, and marriage the list grew. After variations of lists, it turned into the ones the ones who meant the most to me. I have prayed for them during my life.
The next post in this series is a reflection Kurt wrote about God’s role in his life and a continuation of The Usual Liturgy.
© 2022 Kurt Baumann
Kurt Baumann lived in Beaver Dam from from 1983 to 2022, where he was involved in his community theater and church, and a contributor to his local newspaper. He now resides in Watertown. After working a variety of jobs for most of his life, he has retired to do some writing. He has written one book: The Written Works of Kurt Baumann.