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How Do Pious Christians Pray?


Myself

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By T. V. Antony Raj

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Prayers recited mainly by Christians are generally brief, rhyming, or have a memorable tune. They are usually said to give thanks before a meal, before bedtime, or as a nursery rhyme. Many of these prayers are either quotation from the Bible or popular traditional texts.

Now I lay me down to sleep is a classic children’s bedtime prayer from the 18th century. Here is the original version:

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. Amen

The following is a recent version of Now I lay me down to sleep:

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.
There are four corners on my bed,
There are four angels overhead,
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
God bless this bed that I lay on.

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862)

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862), the American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, yogi, historian, and transcendentalist was right when he said that “The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterwards.”

Joseph Addison (May 1, 1672 – June 17, 1719)

On March 8, 1711, Joseph Addison (May 1, 1672 – June 17, 1719), an English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician wrote an essay that appeared in The Spectator in which he says:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to his Care;
when I awake, I give my self up to his Direction
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All the prayers of the modern pious Christians begin with one of the variants of this classic children’s bedtime prayer from the 18th century. This prayer and its adaptations are sometimes combined with the “Black Paternoster”, one version of which goes:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head;
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away.

Frontispiece of Thomas Ady’s A Candle in the Dark.58) the queen of England, blessed herself every night with the “popish ( Roman Catholic) charm”:

Thomas Ady in his witchcraft treatise “A Candle in the Dark, or, a treatise concerning the nature of witches and witchcraft” (1656), tells about a woman in Essex who claimed to have lived in the reign oMary I (r. 1553-1558) the queen of England, blessed herself every night with the “popish (Roman Catholic) charm”:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
The Bed be blest that I lye on.

In 1685, George Sinclair, in his”Satan’s Invisible World Discovered” wrote about a witch who used a “Black Paternoster”, at night, similar to Ady’s rhyme:

Four newks (corners) in this house, for haly (holy) Angels,
A post in the midst, that’s Christ Jesus,
Lucas, Marcus, Matthew, Joannes,
God be into this house, and all that belangs (belongs) us.

A year later it was quoted again by John Aubrey, an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer, but in the form:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lye on.
And blessed Guardian-Angel keep
Me safe from danger whilst I sleep.

So, we find the typical pious Christian does not wish to be bothered. He looks forward to a future of inactivity. Any effort, especially intellectual effort, is distasteful to him and is apt to offend and unsettle him. Hence for him, the intellectual life must not be real but sleep should be real. Sleep seems to be his quest, “and he is forever looking forward to the time when he shall go to his ‘long rest.

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When I lay me down to Sleep, …


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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John Brown by Augustus Washington

John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American radical abolitionist who believed in and advocated armed insurrection as the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. He had 20 children of which 11 survived to adulthood.

In mid-October 1859, John Brown and 21 other men seized the federal armoury at Harper’s Ferry, the holding place for approximately 100,000 rifles and muskets, with the hope of arming slaves and start a violent slave liberation movement that would spread south through the mountainous regions of Virginia and North Carolina.

Within 36 hours, the revolt was suppressed by local farmers, militiamen, and US Marines, the latter led by Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States. The raid resulted in thirteen deaths – twelve rebels and one U.S. Marine.

John Brown was hastily tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men (including 3 blacks), and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty on all counts. He was the first person convicted of treason in the history of the country.

Henry David Thoreau.

On Sunday Evening of October 30, 1859, two weeks after John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862), the American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, tax resister, historian, development critic, and transcendentalist read to the citizens of Concord, Massachusettes, “A Plea for Captain John Brown” and repeated it several times before Brown’s execution on December 2, 1859. It was later published as an essay as a part of Echoes of Harper’s Ferry in 1860.

In his “A Plea for Captain John Brown“, Thoreau vents his rage at the scores of Americans who have voiced their displeasure and scorn for John Brown. Thoreau says, the same people, who say their prayers and then go to sleep aware of injustice but doing nothing to change it can’t relate to Brown because of their concrete stances and “dead” existences.

Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller

About 148 years before, on March 8, 1711, Joseph Addison (May 1, 1672 – June 17, 1719), an English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician wrote an essay that appeared in The Spectator in which he says:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to his Care;
when I awake, I give my self up to his Direction.

All the bedtime prayers of the modern pious Christians, then and now, begin with one of the variants of this classic children’s bedtime prayer from the 18th century which is sometimes combined with the “Black Paternoster”, one version of which goes:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head;
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away.

In his “A Plea for Captain John Brown“, Thoreau criticized contemporary Christians by saying that “The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterwards. All his prayers begin with “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

In plain English, the modern pious Christian does not wish to be disturbed. He looks forward to a future of inactivity. All effort, especially intellectual effort, is distasteful to him and is apt to offend and unsettle him. Hence the intellectual life must not be real; what must be real is the sleep. Sleep seems to be his quest, and in the words of Thoreau “he is forever looking forward to the time when he shall go to his ‘long rest.’

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