by Mary M.

Mornings I practice the old prayers. These are not the fundamental ones my mother taught. Though she instilled in me the habit of prayer, she left me to define the specifics. My prayers now are seasoned with my journey and the instructions of those others I have met along the way. They are no longer the expectant requests of a child but spoken and sung with the tender sadness caught in the voice of an adult. They bring me before my small altar, a mnemonic for my life.

Here are deities carved from stone who represent for me the plant, the animal, and the mineral worlds. Here too are pictures of those I love, and gifts from those who have crossed over and whom I hold in memory and in prayer. Here is water in a jar, reminding that this liquid is the basis of all our lives on Earth, and deserves our fiercest protection and most vigilant love. Also present is fire—matches, sage, and an abalone shell to pray with—as well as air, which feeds the fire and my life.

I honor them all and myself through my prayers. I pray for my mother who has gone and to my mother who remains, my Mother Earth. I ask that she be gentle with me, her daughter, that she hold me tenderly and continue to provide, and that she provide also and always for my son and for all her sons and daughters who daily walk this surface walk of life on her body. Mine is an ageless prayer, prayed by my ancestors for me and now prayed by me for my own child and for all the children who are coming and whom I will never see.

A friend told me once that seven generations ago someone I did not know breathed a prayer that my life would be blessed. He said that, as I was prayed for, so I too should pray. It brought me to tears, this thought that a woman—a mother I assumed—long vanished from this world could pray me into existence so selflessly. Now I honor her, this unknown scion of my life, by giving as she gave, praying as she prayed.

And so, at my primitive altar as I acknowledge the fire and the air and the water and the earth, which is me, I form my request: May my oldest mother love me always, and not only me. May her tenderness and her enduring strength extend far into the future and may she find waiting there another woman, unseen, unknown, who speaks her prayer of hope as I do now for all the beautiful children who may come.

And in this way, prayer extending out to be snared by prayer, which is prayed again, and then again through time, ageless, may the beauties of life be granted without end and may we witness and express our gratitude as they come.

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