She was not more than six years old. The early morning dew still glistened on the petals of her life’s rose. She came to the temple at first light, dropped to her knee before the altar, then sat in the front pew, feet dangling above the floor, hands folded, eyes closed, face radiating, shining—pulled upward by the sun of her prayers. She was by herself; alone, but she was not alone.
Her breathing slowed. Her body grew motionless. Her eyes did not flutter beneath their lids. When the corners of her mouth turned upward, she whispered in God’s listening ear. There was no doubt in her as to what she was doing or in anyone who saw her sitting there.
When she said all she had come to say, she drew a deep breath in and sighed. She inched herself forward off the pew and stood before the altar—head bowed, just for a moment—then ran outside. Her routine never varied. The whole thing took five minutes.
She was so young. So purposeful. So easy and attendant in the kingdom beneath her skin. I wanted to know the prayer she prayed.
One morning, I waited for her beneath the outer portico. She walked toward me still wrapped in the singular hush of her prayer.
She smiled at me, so I said to her, “I have seen you here every morning for six weeks. What do you do when you come here?”
“I pray,” she said in a red-letter sort of way, as if her prayer would be circled in red on the calendar of time.
“I pray, too,” I said. “What prayer do you say?”
“I say my ABC’s, ma’am—five times, from “A” to “Z,“ then back again.”
I did not understand her meaning, so she said, “People are sad. And very tired. I want to help, but I am little. And I do not know which prayers God listens to.”
I nodded my head and she leaned forward. We were eye to eye. Then she whispered, “I come here to this holy place and give God the letters that live in every word, in every prayer we could say to Him. Then I tell Him to arrange the letters into the prayer He wants most to hear.”
Then she ran to the woman who stood waiting for her on the sidewalk and disappeared in the crowd.
I am a person who writes. I am also a person who prays. Writing and praying are my comfort food. Last month was over the top. It’s hard to know what to write about or what to pray for when a war, a hurricane, a tornado, and the fiery disintegration of the western United States rise up from the bowels of the earth, when the miracle of modern technology brings them into your living room, your car, and your office, and the prospect of an invisible virus or the visible pathogen of racial injustice shadows you everywhere you go. Where’s the comfort in that?
So, I prayed the best prayer I knew. And I waited for the words I wanted to say to come to me.
Last Friday, my friend Sara texted me this little story off the internet, and though it has nothing to do with the making sense of the crosscurrents of the week’s hell and brimstone, I’m immediately drawn to it. I doctor it up. I choose the words very carefully. I refrain from explanations. I leave spaces in the story for you, dear Reader, to enter in. and gather ye rosebuds where you may.
Rewriting it does not change world events. It does not mitigate the complexity or carnage. It does not suggest theories or provide easy answers or make any excuses. It’s so simple and spacious and innocent and beautiful, it loosens the grip on my heart. Like the small girl in this story, I give my letters into The Right Hands and things within me are rightly arranged.
Margaret Wolff is a writer, storyteller, art therapist, and retreat leader. Her work celebrates the ways in which the collective wisdom and storytelling reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives and connect us—heart to beating heart—to each other.
COMING HOME: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda (White Pearl Press, May 20201), is a curated collection of 14 modern-day stories of spiritual awakening that reflect “the most creative and transformative experience life can offer—developing an intimate partnership with the invisible God of one’s heart.”
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