“And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake.” –Mark 13:37
When I was little, my mother would tuck me into bed and lead me in a prayer that she taught me:
I pray, the LORD, my soul to keep,
if I die before I wake
I pray, the LORD, my soul to take.”
Apparently this is a very old prayer, having its roots at least as far back as a New England primer (which I learned is a text book for beginning readers) dating back to the 17th or 18th century. Which means folks who look like me have been reciting that prayer for longer than America has been…well…America.
As a child it made me uneasy. Reciting that prayer reminded me that life is precious and, ultimately, God will look after my soul…but it also raised a question every night as I was about to sleep: How likely is it that I’m going to die before morning?
As an adult I can look back on that time, and if possible I would reassure my young self: It’s not very likely at all. You live in a safe home, in a good neighborhood (mostly). On this night and all your other nights, until at least the age of 32, you’ll be able to close your eyes without concern of your personal safety, and you’ll wake up in the morning knowing that you were totally secure, dreaming lovely dreams and thinking of the future. You’re fine. Every night.
In fact…there’s quite a lot of places to go and things you could do without needing to worry too much about your life being in danger.
And what I had no way of knowing as a child, but am fully aware of as an adult: There are countless people in this world for whom this kind of security does not exist. They do fear for their lives, and they struggle for their lives, and they spend their lives wrestling with courts and legal proceedings and trying to stay out of jail for crimes that their white counter parts commit daily. For those people, the very phrase that haunted me–“If I die before I wake…”–would most likely sound pretty ludicrous to them…as they know they are far more likely to die while awake, while living their lives, while walking down the street, while trying to warm their hands on a cold day.
So, young Brian, and anyone else out there who worries about their soul being jeopardy while you are asleep, for you I offer this new bedtime song to sing:
As I lay me, down to sleep
I pray, the LORD, my brothers and sisters of all walks of life, please keep;
Keep them safe, keep them strong, keep them loved and comfortable in these nights so long;
And if in waking hours they befall countless sufferings and injustice in their daily lives, then God heed their call;
Break into our world and answer the cries of your Beloved with gifts of Love and Peace, Justice and Hope, Joy and Comfort, and bring them in forms that leave out NO ONE.
And LORD…if our country should lose its soul before we wake, be merciful to those who suffered for your sake.