my name is jeanne, and i have authority issues . . .

i have long despised the words i heard far too often as a child, “with every head bowed and every eye closed,” words that preceded some man standing in the pulpit elevated above us and pontificating under the name of prayer. even as a youth, i did not want or need men speaking for me. even as a youth, i knew that prayer is something that can be done silently, by each person in his or her own way. even as a youth, i knew that some of these men used prayer as a spotlight, a greeting card, absolution, subterfuge.

so every time we gathered for dinner, one of the things i dreaded most was mother beckoning us to the kitchen, instructing us to hold hands, then asking the youngest child in attendance to say the blessing while the rest of us were to bow our head and close our eyes just like in days gone by.

eventually came the day when i could no longer go along quietly, my silence an implied endorsement.

“mother,” i said to her before one family gathering, “if you want to pray, that’s fine. i respect that. i do, however, ask that you not expect me to or demand that i join in. i ask that you respect me and my belief system and allow me to pray as i will. or will not.”

i went on to explain my belief that prayer is something that can be done in any variety of ways by individuals in ways they see fit. “the beauty of prayer,” i told her, “is that it’s no less effective if those around you don’t even know that you’re praying.”

“when others subject me to their prayers, i feel like they are forcing their religion on me without regard to my belief system. perhaps you could simply say,” i suggested, “‘join me as you will.’ that allows us to opt in or out. that is respectful of everyone in attendance.”

now she didn’t have to do this, of course, she’s my mother. according to the way i was brought up, i am to respect her without comment.

but she did. she dropped the required praying before a meal, allowing us to express our gratitude and seek grace in our own individual ways.

and i love her for that.