This article is from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Reflections magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.
by Paul Pineda
Praying, for me, is in the language and images of my youth. As my language of origin is Spanish, so too is my language of prayer. Prayers learned at my mother’s feet were simple and primitive wrapped in good manners of “Please,” “Thank you,” “May I help you?” and “I love you.” They were more of a “platica,” chat or visit, than a formal audience.
Using the more formal prayers of my father and of the church always felt strange and stiff, like new clothes. They never felt like they were mine and therefore never comfortable.
School and learning English confounded my praying. Not only was it stiff and uncomfortable but rote and foreign. I was never sure if the words were saying what I meant. They certainly didn’t feel like it or sound like it.
But praying in this new language was the passport to my participation in the liturgy and the sacraments, and that would make my parents proud. It felt like a small price to pay.
As I grew up and my life became mine, I longed for the old and simple conversant prayers of my childhood. I was now considered “immersed” in the English language. That worked well except in my family and my prayer life. I began to sense that I was losing my relationship with my God. It was like watching my young children and nephews not being fluent in their relationship with their grandparents.
My mother’s way of praying remained my “mother tongue.” And as I looked back, I slowly began to unpack what all that meant.
Every time I think of my mother in prayer, I cannot help but imagine Guadalupe and Juan Diego on those frosty December mornings. In the story, Juan’s purpose was to get to church to pray for his uncle who was home sick. Guadalupe came to visit with Juan, and she met him where he was. She asked him for a favor. It was a visit between two friends. The humility from both friends in that encounter is so powerful: to actually come to believe that God also needs my help. That’s what friends are for.
Using my assimilated and analytical mind, I believe that I’ve “…marked, learned and inwardly digested” not only the words of my mother but her ritual of prayer. I have spent time visualizing also that scene where she would sit and teach me. I can hear her words, her lessons.
The three “P’s” of my prayer life are strongly rooted in me from my culture. They define who I am, a Hispanic Episcopalian. First is purpose: In my mother’s way of praying there was one of two purposes for prayer. Either we were like Juan Diego, having a need and asking God for help, or we were like Mary in the Magnificat asking God to use us as God saw fit.
Posture was of utmost importance both in asking and in offering. My mother’s posture in prayer was always that of humility. Her tone of voice was simple and direct — eye-to-eye, but never defiant — with her hands held out in respect and friendship.
Presence made the prayers. There was no one and nothing that could distract her conversations with her God. In those moments she and God were as real and present one with the other as two friends can ever be.
In the Episcopal Church I found the Book of Common Prayer with prayers that flowed in conversation with God. Whether in supplication, praise or thanksgiving they are conversant, not stiff and formal. While not in her native language or mine, I know these prayers would resonate with my mother.
Paul Pineda is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.