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Starting Point

Walking the Way in prayer marks the path of our only real life


The first prayer I can remember is one that my mother taught me many years ago. I must have been 5 years old or so. The prayer was simple and was addressed to Mary. It went, “Lovely lady, dressed in blue, teach me how to pray. God was once your little boy, and you know the Way.”

I vaguely remember that being put to song, too, and perhaps the reason I remember it is that I can still remember a melody to the words.

The Way. It was, I have read, what the early Christians called themselves. The Way of the Lord, the Way of Life and Love.

Life is a way, a passage through time and memory. At midlife, I am trying to understand what it means to pray. I have never been one to pray for things like the weather, for lasting peace, or a happy death. But I do pray to know the Way. I pray that I may learn to pray, and I think that has something to do with memory.

I do not think that my parents knew clearly the “Way” back then, at least in a formal sense of that word. Their love was yet young, and their religious horizons in terms of Catholicism very fixed and sure. The big changes had not yet arrived. It was the late 1940s. At least, I think that things were seemingly more fixed back then. My Mom and Dad tell me as much.

At night, before I go to bed, I try and remember deeply. I do not try to recall specific details but let them sort of arrive on their own. At first there is silence, save for my breathing and the beating of my heart. Then, slowly, I remember things, or better, living things come to me. And I savor them.

I grow warm, remembering the need of a man I knew to better love his wife. He had confided in me that he hurt her and wanted to learn what to say. Somehow, he found the Way. I remember and know that a Way truly exists.

I remember the pain and anguish of my parents when they lost a son, my twin, and how there seemed to be no more Way. But that Way was so deepened, made surer, with love, trust, time, pain and fidelity. I see that the Way became more redemptive in and through loss. I see the very same thing taking place in the heart of my sister as she mourns the death of her son. She has so prayed for a Way, and I can see that it is there, even before she asks for it.

I pray to hear, or feel, all the unspoken love in the world this night and to be grateful that such exists, and to know that such is more real than all the anger and hatred in the world, and that indeed the latter is in large measure due to all that love not yet having been risked and spoken.

I pray that I might remember and take to a real and living part of my heart this unspoken yet real love, and that I may speak just a fraction of it, maybe in a letter or spoken word to a friend.

I pray to remember that there was and is a Word, in and through which all that love that ever was and will be shall be spoken. If I cannot speak it, then I may be allowed to hear it in those with whom I share this Way.

I pray to live with, and learn, from my weakness, from failure, from human limit, human anguish. I pray and then remember how good people are to those in need, how great the human heart is when called upon to respond to hurt, to loss and death. How naturally people walk the Way on behalf of others who are falling and in need of help.

I remember an old woman I saw recently in a nursing home who can no longer see to write and whose niece lovingly guided her aunt’s hand along notepaper, patiently listening so as to be sure that each word was right. In all our weakness, Lord, help us to see, and to write with love, and to remember above all to share this Way of yours that you have given to us as our only real and lasting life.

Lovely Lady, dressed in blue, teach me how to pray.

God was once your little boy, and you know the Way.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His latest book is Grace is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk (ACTA, 1998).

National Catholic Reporter, March 5, 1999