Saturday, November 29, 2014

Three Meditations on a Child's Prayer


I have a 10-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son, and a 2-year-old son.

It's an interesting time to listen to their prayers.

Leif, my youngest, still doesn't talk much--probably because he spent so much of his first 18 months of his life sick and in hospitals. Even before he started repeating words, though, the nightly rhythm of prayer helped him relax and accept sleep (we found that out the hard way when we tried to tuck him in without scriptures and prayers one night when his siblings were gone). Now, prayers are his most verbal  time of day. Often we can get him to repeat a word or two when he's asking for food, but more often than not at night, he'll take his best shot at repeating the words and short phrases of the prayer Nicole or I or one of the other kids helps him with.

Elijah often wanders and sometimes picks fights during prayers. Some nights, he kind of shouts his prayers or says them in his monster voice. Other nights, he's very thoughtful and helpful. He has one stock phrase that comes up almost every night--he likes to thank Heavenly Father "that we could have good fun." After a while, Nicole figured out that "good fun" meant the fun that comes with good choices: it was his way of asking for help behaving in a way that allowed him to have more fun than conflict with others.

Kira's prayers have recently turned from a narrower focus on our family's home life to our local community. She listens at church and then remembers to pray for specific struggling neighbors and their families. She's more and more likely to think of extended family members and friends. It's gratifying as a parent to watch her awareness mature.

My children's prayers give a pretty decent overview of some key roles religion plays in many lives today. It provides comfort and order. It helps focus us on our personal moral development and master ourselves. And it helps us reach out in compassion toward others, farther than we would likely manage on our own.


Last night, Kira prayed again for the Henley family, whose basement apartment we lived in for four years. Last Sunday, Alice Henley--who'd been like an extra grandmother to the kids--passed away. We've had a few talks about it since, and it was nice to know Kira was thinking of Alice's husband, children, and grandchildren.

Next it was Lijah's turn to pray. I can't remember exactly how his prayer started, but I definitely remember the part where he said, "Thank thee that Daddy will die. Thank thee that Leif won't die."

As soon as his prayer was over, Kira asked him what on earth he was thinking. Why would he even mention Daddy dying? And Lijah repeated some variation on a theme we've discussed several times, especially since Sister Henley's death--death is part of life. It's OK.

And so I find it strangely noble of my young son to thank God for my future death. If he takes the time to bless the name of God again on the day I die, I will be content and proud.

I understand, though, if that turns out to be hard. He's seen Leif stop breathing, seen ambulances rush him to the hospital. And so I'm not surprised that at the same time he prepares himself for my eventual death, he pleads in the guise of thanks for his brother to have a long, perhaps in his mind an endless, earthly life.

And oh my son, when you and I have loved and fought for years, when you've watched me grow frail and spend my own time in hospitals, you may want me to live forever on earth, too. It may be hard to remember on the day I go that death is part of life.


My great-grandmother, Basant Kaur, died when I was in elementary school. Afterward, I used to wonder sometimes if she was spending her time, invisible, somewhere close to me. That thought used to help me when I was tempted to do something I knew I wouldn't be caught for. No living person might know, but I hated the idea of disappointing Beiji.

I'd been home from my mission for about a year when my Grandpa Art died. My dad was able to fly right out when Art went in to the hospital, was able to hold his hand a last time. I was in Utah at the time, and drove out toward California to help move Art to a care center, or else to help clean out his apartment. He died while I was on the road.

It's been a while since that happened, but I still think about Art all the time. Every little while something will come up that reminds me how much I wish my wife and kids could have met him.

I feel like he's somewhere not so far away, but since I knew him so much longer than I did my great-grandma, it's also easier to see him in myself. I like to think that when my kids do finally meet their great-grandfather, they'll recognize him, in part, through the way I was--they'll know that even though he died too early for them, he was still in the way I talked and laughed and looked at the world. They'll recognize the ways they knew him.

I do believe, on an emotional and spiritual level as well as on an intellectual one, that what I tell my children about death is true. It's part of life, though the fear of bereavement and death are certainly part of life, too. We will always wrestle, I think, to find the proper balance between accepting death and working to delay it.

But I hope we remember it doesn't need to be something that severs our closest relationships, in time or eternity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Meeting of the Myths" Contest Discussion

For our past literary contests, Nicole and I have tried different approaches to holding online discussions of the pieces. Sometimes we've gone on blog tours, holding discussions for different pieces in different places. Other times, we've had discussions posts for each piece here. Sometimes there's been more discussion on social media; other times we've actively encouraged people to take the extra steps you need to comment outside the gated portions of the internet so that the discussions can be more widely accessible and easier to find in the future.

For the current "Meeting of the Myths" contest, we'd like to try something a little different. In addition to the many conversations we've seen on Facebook and Twitter about individual stories, we'd like to have a single conversation thread to discuss all the stories on this blog. That way, it will be easier to talk about how the stories speak to each other and what we get out of the contest as a whole in addition to discussing our reactions to pieces on their own.

The seven finalists are:

"Spring Hill" by Luisa Perkins
"A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness" by Jonathon Penny
"The Trail" by Stephen Carter
"Where Nothing Lives But Crosses" by Lee Allred
"Harmony's Victory" by Hillary Stirling
"Eyelight" by Mark Penny
"Daughter of a Boto" by Katherine Cowley (coming Sunday)

Feel free to comment on any aspect of a story, on the relationship between stories, on how the contest fits into larger conversations about Mormon Lit, on what they can teach us as Mormon writers, or whatever else you'd like to talk about.

Possible discussion question include:
What did that story mean? What are the implications?
Which story do you find most interesting/puzzling/troubling/engaging/timely/timeless/shareable/etc and why?
Do you see any sets of stories that come from the same aesthetic or social impulses? Do you see any pair or set of stories that provide us with a useful contrast in approaches?
What do you see in the contest that you weren't expecting?
What haven't you seen in the contest that you wish you had seen?
How are you going to decide which three pieces to vote for?
If you could share one story with the youth in your ward, which one would you pick?
Why are you spending your precious internet time on this contest instead of on, saying, teaching yourself another language or watching cute cat videos?
What stuff you're encountered elsewhere on the internet relates to stuff you've read or that the stories have made you think about?



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