Tuesday, 16 September 2008

How I pray...

For various reasons - from Alphaville's "Forever Young" in an advert to Ruth playing A-ha whilst I was at hers - I've been hunting down the music of my youth. Music from the 80s makes me laugh, cry, dance like a maniac.

It's also the way I pray.

"Kyrie eleison", meaning "Lord, have mercy", has been part of my everyday vocabulary since I became Catholic. I use it in prayer, as an interjection, for any reason going. E.g., "Kyrie eleison, will NO ONE do us all a favour and push Edward out of the choir loft??!" My usage of it is probably (and I'm happy for my Saffa friends to correct me on this) similar to the Afrikaans "Jislaaik" or "Agh".

But this song came out long before my Catholic days, and I used it as a prayer from the moment I was mesmerised by the opening verse:

Kyrie eleison
Kyrie eleison

The wind blows hard against this mountainside,
across the sea into my soul -
it reaches into where I cannot hide,
setting my feet upon the road...
My heart is old, it holds my memories,
my body burns a gem-like flame:
somewhere between the soul and soft machine
is where I find myself again...

I'd never heard a song like it before, but it resonated in a way that the young Irim couldn't articulate. All my life, I had felt like my feet had been set on a road, that I couldn't hide, that someone was always beside me, that God was closer to me than my own skin - I never needed to have faith in God; I knew God existed, just like I knew our house did. Just like I knew that there was somewhere, somewhen I was meant to be.

I was always trying to find a way to get closer to God: I wanted to pray with my mother, my cousins in Pakistan, but I always found talking to God in my own words the easiest. You know, words such as, "Lord, I know you're trying to teach me patience, but NOW is NOT the time." It shouldn't surprise me to find myself currently drifting away from mass, only to find myself in an empty church lighting a candle. I don't do God group talk very well. I can talk to God by looking up, by being with those I love, maybe most often in those I find most difficult. (Not that I handle THAT well.) But telling me how to relate to God and what God wants me to do is very likely to get you an impolite gesture - figuratively, of course.

But that rebellion against being told what to say and how to say it doesn't stop me from borrowing someone else's words when they're absolutely perfect for my conversation with God.

I used the chorus of this song as a prayer for years - I still do when the song comes to mind. But my prayers have always been a personal variation on it- Mr Mister just put it more succinctly:

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel,
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night,
Kyrie eleison, where I'm going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light.

And my favourite bit? When, during the choruses at the end, one of the singers comes out with a heartfelt, "Will you follow?" Because that's what I always ask when I start something new: "God, do you have my back on this one?"

Because I know I have yet to reach that somewhere or somewhen that I've sensed since I could toddle. And you know, God, sometimes the going has gotten really tough, and I have had to sit down, wanted to turn back, just quit altogether or take an easier road. But every time I've asked, you've promised that you have my back, that you will follow. That no matter who else has left, you won't.

And if you will follow, I will keep my feet upon the road. Then all that is left for me to ask is:

Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light.

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