Thursday, April 8, 2010

God Sees Your Underpants Anyway

I may be getting ready to ruin The Lord's Prayer for you--forever. Sorry. When I was in the fifth grade at Barrow Elementary School, circa 1962, we stood and said The Lord's Prayer every morning. We said that, and sang the National Anthem and then pledged the flag. Like clockwork. No questions asked. Public school. Lord's Prayer. Back then, we didn't have too many "international" students. But there was a girl in Ms. Osborne's class that year---I'll call her Adelheid Jobse--who just really never caught on to that prayer time. Every single day, when we were asked to bow our heads and pray, Adelheid, assuming that all of her classmates had our eyes tightly closed---well, she pulled up her skirt and fixed her blouse underneath. Every day, Lord's Prayer, Adelheid pulled up her skirt and adjusted the blouse to be tucked in again. By the time we had gotten to, "For thine is the kingdom," the skirt was back in place---but we had all seen her white cotton underpants--again. All year. Lord's Prayer...Pavlov's Dog....pull up skirt...make underpants.
I guess that Ms. Osborne must have really and truly had her eyes closed all year during the prayer because she never gave Adelheid the heads-up or "This is how we do it here in America," girl-to-girl talk. Adelheid's father was finishing up his doctorate in physics, so thank goodness they returned home and Adelheid did not have to carry "the girl who pulled up her skirt during the Lord's Prayer" all through school. Except from across the Atlantic. Because I remember. And, my guess is that my whole fifth grade class remembers. That was the beginning of prayer in schools for me from a young age. (As a side question, I wonder what Alan, Dina and Gary, my Jewish friends in my fifth grade class, thought about The Lord's Prayer as part of the homeroom ritual. It never came up. I would like to know though. Readers? Reactions?)

So, by the time I got my teaching degree many years later, I found myself back at Barrow Elementary as a fifth grade teacher. Only by then is was 1990 and prayer in school had become unconstitutional. Well, you and I both know that just because something is unconstitutional, that doesn't stop people from doing it. Right?
By 1990, Barrow had indeed become the international elementary school in our county. In the class I taught that year, I had students from China, Israel, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Colombia, India, and Albania. Throw those kids in with regular 'ole Athens kids and you've got quite a mix. Separation of church and state was in full swing....except that we forgot to tell the kids. Ooops. One day during recess, Katie Goodrum found a dead bird. Quick as a flash, all 24 students crowded around and went into pet-funeral mode. It was Matt Aldridge who called out, "Circle up everybody! Join hands. Let's say a prayer for this little bird."
Some of my students were not hesitant exactly, but perhaps a bit puzzled. So many cultures were coming into conflict----and into resolution at that exact same moment. Matt, picking up on the "religious confusion," gave the encompassing command, "Listen up, ya'll! Everybody---just pray to your own favorite God! That should about cover it! So just pray!" And they did. Here were my precious little fifth graders from all around the globe, joined by hands and in heart, to pray. To pray for a the life of a little creature that had passed on. Some of the children said stuff out loud. Most were quiet and just very reverent---in that circle, in that communal spirit, on that playground.

You know what? Nothing can keep us from prayer. Prayer is when we stop and acknowledge that we are part of a greater whole. Like Matt so clearly knew, prayer is a time that connects us one-to-one with our sacred little selves. Because isn't prayer when we allow ourselves to reach inside and touch something real--and then say, "Thank you." or "Forgive me." or "It's me again."? Maybe Adelheid was right all along. Prayer is a time for us to adjust and re-adjust what is going on in our hearts. Maybe to tuck in and un-tuck things in our lives that have kept us stuck. And going way out on a limb here---to show God our underpants--the parts of ourselves that we don't want other people to know about----the most intimate parts of our lives. 'Cause my best guess is that God can see them anyway.
Ok, You can open your eyes now because I've got a final prayer.
Here's what I know from Taylor:
A clean heart is a free heart.
That about covers it.
Go out and live in this life with your free heart--
And clean underpants (Optional).