ritual n. any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner
spiritual adj. of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature / of or pertaining to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.
Every night before bed Brooke and I go through our bedtime routine. It’s a relatively elaborate dance whose choreography has evolved over time. The ritual once took place in a rocking chair across from her crib. It eventually moved to the edge of her toddler bed on the floor. It now happens snuggled into the covers of her big girl princess bed, nearly smothered by a gaggle of stuffed animals, each of whom must be present and accounted for before we can begin.
We read two books (not one, not three, but two), we head to the bathroom for ‘that one last time’, and then we ‘hop into bed’ (in quotes because she literally hops in and then says, ‘I hopped-ed into bed’ with a grin, all part of the dance) and then we turn out the light and curl together in the dark.
I sing a couple of made up versions of Lullaby and Goodnight (does anyone really know the words to these things?) one to Brooke, one to Boots the Monkey, followed by a slightly off key but earnest delivery of Rock-a Bye Baby. Note: My grandmother likes to say that she has always been able to sing the perfect lullaby because every child she knows chooses to sleep rather than to be tortured by her voice. Despite my delusions to the contrary, I have no doubt inherited Grandma’s musical talent.
We then lay quietly for a moment before she starts her prayers.
And then, in exactly the same way every night, with the exact same words spoken in the exact same order with the exact same intonation, she says the prayers that we have created together over time.
Hear and bless
Like beasts and singing birds
And guard with tenderness
Have no words
So far a fair approximation of a Child’s Prayer for all of God’s creatures. What are a few missing words between friends?
Admission – This came not from a children’s bible or some other equally lofty place, but from the last page of our time-worn and love-tattered copy of A Child’s Goodnight Book by Margaret Wise Brown. Like many high functioning children with autism, Brooke has some pretty serious challenges with expressive language; but she is able to recite books and scripts of movies and television shows. She knew this book by heart and the last passage eventually evolved into her bedtime prayer.
When we read it together in the early days, I remember thinking how grateful I was (am) that Brooke has words. I still thank God for that grace each and every day. I thought the prayer was a beautiful way to remember so many children who are not blessed with the ability to speak at all.
I think of the friends and the parents who I’ve spoken with or whose words I’ve read who pray every day to someday hear their child’s voice. I think of the wonderful woman whose blog I read almost obsessively, whose beautiful son Jack is non-verbal. She keeps working and fighting and clawing to find ways to give him language.
And so I think it is wonderful and fitting that at the end of every day, Brooke asks God to ‘Guard with tenderness small things that have no words.’ It is a salient reminder to both of us that amid our challenges there are abundant blessings and that there are others who face much more than we do.
God bless Mommy
God bless Daddy
God bless Katie
And God bless me
I painstakingly taught her that last part, but what follows is all Brooke.
There was a way
By eating and drinking
That my mama loves me so much
Here and near
By eating and drinking
My mama loves me so much
I had nothing to do with this and I can’t claim to have any idea what it means to Brooke.
I started calling her my little Taoist when she added this piece. It reminds me of what I’ve read about the Wu-wei (which is admittedly mostly from the Tao of Pooh, if I’m being honest.) Through the Wu-wei (as I interpret it) we embrace the natural order of the world, finding the beauty in the day to day process of being and doing.
“By eating and drinking,” she says, “my mama loves me so much.”
Love is being.
Perhaps this is just another of Brooke’s many rituals and I’m assigning far too much meaning to it. But if you look at the words defined above, it only takes the 3 letters “S” “P” and “I” to make the ritual spiritual and to make the process itself sacred.
We cuddle together
And then we do, and our ritual comes to its end.
Until the next night.