By Rev. Jim Innes
Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live another day, I pray the Lord to guide my way. Amen
This petition was embroidered on cloth, and framed above the foot of my childhood bed. I prayed it every night, and though rhythmic and easy to remember, it always troubled me.
Falling asleep under risk I may not come back was more than a little intimidating. I have found reasons to use this in my sermons as an example of child-scary theology.
Surprisingly (to me), it is a well-known supplication. And many others have shared that they, too, have experienced its more profound threat—all but one.
Recently, in a congregational support group, one woman in her nineties confessed she prays this prayer every night and finds it reassuring. “It is most comforting to know that I fall asleep in God’s care and protection.” She explained that a woman of her years isn’t sure of anything, including “the coming of morning.”
Yes, indeed! How very true. It was a reminder that beyond the childhood certainties that form our worldview (and all the vitality that goes with it), a time comes when an entirely different ‘energy’ comes into play.
It is true. Nothing is a certainty. To think so is a false confidence that lends itself to an anxious grip on the life we suppose it always to be. And undergirds the sentiment ‘losing our childhood innocence.’ Un-certainty is one of the more difficult lessons we learn to manage.
Psychology has suggested that certainty, or wanting certainty, is a survival instinct. If so, then losing it means becoming vulnerable, and vulnerability of this intensity can be maddening.
Losing our certainties is the path to prudence. But the way is not secure. The journey is often wrought with doubt, even despair. Subsequently, we gingerly progress in this area of our life. Often, we fall hard before we accept the scary truth. But, once processed, we gain humbling wisdom that, beyond reason, feels right and good. It is perhaps why those who have ‘been there’ (like my ninety-year-old parishioner mentioned above) find themselves (and are seen by others) as more calm, assured, and stable.
As I see it, when we can let go of certainty, we are open to hope-filled optimism. This hopefulness propels us into an actualized sense of our relationship to our world, to other’s worlds (especially those different to us), and to a world in which the idea of a’ greater power’ becomes a possibility. I cannot describe how this happens, but I like this quote (and discovered Vincent van Gogh is the writer), “I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of the Regional Ministry of South Huron.