The world of my childhood was a very enchanted one, where the supernatural seemed ready to jump out at you around every corner. To the six-year-old me, it was a mysterious and scary place. It didn’t exactly help that the house that we lived in was purportedly haunted. My aunt, who witnessed the apparition when she was a child herself, described it as “an old woman, sitting in her chair, floating above the mosquito net covering the bed.” As to the identity of the ghost, we can only guess that she may have been a plantation worker. After all, the land on which the house was built was a part of an old French colonial rubber plantation. And plantations were well known for their rampant worker abuses, with the dead being buried where they work, or so persisted the rumors.
Knowing all of this history about the land, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as a young child, I was quite afraid of ghosts, especially when the night began to fall. That something, or someone, could be lurking in the darkness. Even a visit to the toilet at night was a horrifying experience, more so when everyone else was asleep. If there were any silver linings in this, it was that I developed a rigorous bedtime prayer habit at a very young age.
I learned early on that while there may be a ghost hiding in every nook and cranny, I can always try to lean on God for protection against this terrifying force. My nightly ritual included reciting the Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and one simple petition: “God give me a good dream.” While it may seem ridiculous now all grown-up, for my early childhood self, this ritualistic act of prayer before bed connected me directly to God. In essence, the action itself was a sacred act; an opportunity where God was inviting the little me to come to Him. While the night may be scary, God was there with me, driving away all the eerie creepy things. Reminiscing about these childhood memories has always been consoling for me, I see them as sacred little gems that God gifted me.
As an adult, no longer afraid of the ghostly presences hiding in the dark, there are still plenty of ills and glooms that can spread their shadows over me. Essentially, I am still the same helpless child as I was many years ago in Vietnam, still very much afraid of something. And that something is much more real than the ghost and goblin hiding under the bed at night. Thus, the need to rely on God never ceases. I need God more than ever. It is when I feel inept, needing to cling on to God, that I feel at ease, just like the childlike version of myself praying for a “good dream.”
While I still have the nightly prayer habit, it no longer includes the repetitious prayers like the familiar Hail Mary, or the Our Father. It is a simple examination of consciousness, with Jesus at my side. Even though I recognize my need for God, I no longer have the courage to ask God as boldly as I did when I was a child. So, gone is the childlike “God give me a good dream” petition.
In Matthew 18:4, Jesus says “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to something here, to return to that innocent dependence on God. While I can laugh at my silly six-year-old self petitioning God like a child writing to Santa Claus before Christmas, there is a genuine trust here that the adult me cannot help but envy. To have heartfelt trust in the goodness of God; that the Lord will be there watching over my younger self throughout the night, going as far as protecting me in my childish dreams. This is the faith that I pray to have at the present.
Indeed, faith itself is a great treasure. While the night may fall and the cold moon rises, faith warmly draws us in, inviting us to trust in the Lord, even when we may have a lot of reservations in doing so. Perhaps ghosts and hauntings no longer bother us, but there are still plenty of things that can unsettle us. The economy isn’t doing great, having ramifications on our livelihoods.Our country is more divided than ever, and reconciliation is nowhere in sight. For those of us working in religious vocations, how do we get more men and women to serve God as religious? A lot of these issues are outside of our control. It is in this context that we bring our prayers to God and trust in God’s goodness. We are invited to be bold in our prayers, finding the childlike courage to be “silly” in our petitions, and daring to ask the Lord for what may seem to us to be impossible. As children, we don’t feel embarrassed when we ask God for “big” things. Perhaps we should learn to be more childlike again in our prayers; to dare to ask for things that are well beyond our individual capacity to affect.
Header artwork by the author.