Confession: I have always wanted to be like my grandma.
Pretty much my whole family wanted to be like her. I, however, was lucky, because my mother and I lived with my grandmother for most of my childhood.
Grandma was a warm, funny, giving, loving woman. She gave me homemade play dough from her bread mixture, and would colour it with my favourite colours because she knew it made me happy. She taught me how to pray. I would kneel beside the bed, and she would sit with me, and we would pray: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” I don’t think she realized I watched her while we prayed. Sometimes I would watch to get the words right. Sometimes I would watch to get the actions right. But mostly I would watch because she glowed when she prayed. Her love for God, her love for Mary, was written all over her. And I wanted be just like her.
Of course, even as a child, I knew I was not. I realize now it was because I did not have her faith. I did not have her commitment. I did not have her experience. She was, after all, almost exactly 64 years older. But I tried my best to follow her lead, hoping that, one day, I would be just like her.
As I grew up I learned more about the words I prayed alongside her at night. The first part of that prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” became the roadmap for my prayers. I developed my own relationship with God by talking to God through my prayers. Many of the words to my childhood prayers are long forgotten, but now, every night when I pray, I talk to God, and I do theology. I let those prayers and theologies shape my soul, my understandings of my failings, my desire to grow, and my gratitude for life, grace, and forgiveness. As Grandma always said when I had a problem: “Alisha, offer it up to God.” So I do. Every night. In the dark, in the moonlight, in the star-shine.
To pray at night, in the light of the heavenly bodies, is to pray in the light of the heavenly host. It is to pray in the light of the community of saints. It is to pray having faith that God will keep my soul close no matter what I confess. It is to pray knowing that whatever the darkness, there is still light.
We lost my grandma nearly seven years ago. In the years since she died, I have realized that my grandma’s life was revelation to me. She herself was a revelation of what I came to learn is the sacramental imagination — the idea that God can reveal through any moment, anything, and anyone. Grandma is how God came to me. She is how I came to God. She taught me to pray. She taught me how to be. Grandma was, and still is, my role model in faith. She was, and still is, my role model for how to live my faith in the world.
My grandma was always welcoming. She always had food to give, and laughter to share. To me, she was the embodiment of the command to love one’s neighbour. Her whole life showed the importance of taking care of others and taking care with others. Why do I know this? Because she told me: “Love is what you do.” She taught me that when you love, it shows in your actions.
Love is coloured play dough. Love is quoting your grandma in your childhood drawings (my mom kept a drawing of mine with “Love is what you do” inside a heart from when I was seven). Love is taking seriously the lessons the lives of others teach. Love is putting those lessons into action. I still want to be just like my grandma. I want to treat others the way she did — with care, kindness, and love.
It is said that all theology is personal. I believe this is true. It doesn’t mean so much that all theology is done from a personal standpoint, although that may be true too. Rather, I believe all theology is personal because it must be personal, personal to each of us. It must penetrate to the depths of us. We must feel its truth. And we, in turn, must be a witness to it, in our words and in our actions.
And now when I pray, I hope I pray in my grandmother’s light.
Pomazon is assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.