I Made a Place for Faith

Last year, for once, I really had a resolution for the New Year, and I had to find a way to make it stick. It was not the kind of resolution you bring up in casual conversation.

I resolved to devote more time to my faith life.

As a practicing Roman Catholic, I attend Mass weekly, often more than once a week. My parish and my children's school are conveniently in the same place. The church is right there every day when I take the kids to school. It's pretty easy.

What's hard is this: keeping my mind on praying while I am doing it.

At Mass, I am generally keeping the peace among my three children, leaving little time to be calmly grateful and to ask for blessings and grace for people I love and some that I don't. At just about every Mass, one of the kids sneezes an enormous blob of snot across the pew at some lady's new Juicy Couture jacket, or slips on the kneeler and gets an instant and dramatically bloody lip. The topper is when, at these moments, we're trapped in the middle of a loooooong pew, bookended by dignified, childless worshippers, and I have to urgently but quietly beg for egress.

Mass is occasionally less than, uh, reverent.

I do my best praying when I'm holding my children, either first thing in the morning when they wake or right before their bedtime. Their warm little bodies curled inside my arms are somehow an anti-distraction. I stop thinking about how annoying laundry is, about the stucco that needs to be redone on the wall around our house, and the huge hole the dogs dug in the middle of the yard for no reason .

The kids quiet my mind, in a good way. I can look down at their soft hair, a few inches below my chin. I wrap their fingers in mine and marvel at their smooth pale skin and the way their breathing quiets as they fall asleep. These moments are divine for me: they're my Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and Glory Bes.

But they're getting bigger, my kids. All three of them are approaching the age when I can hardly hold them without limbs dangling to the ground.

So I needed another way. And like every modern Catholic, I looked to the Internet for help.

My goal was to find a prayer kneeler, or a prie-dieu. I found a perfect spot for it next to the French doors in our bedroom. I would hang my grandmother's rosary from a hook above the kneeler and keep a stack of prayer cards on the little shelf. This would be my quiet place surrounded by a sort of holy invisible barrier, a sacred "no aggravate mother/wife" zone. My own teeny-tiny chapel. Problem solved!

Fast forward to the crazy lady in Texas from whom I ordered the kneeler on eBay. (After eight weeks and no kneeler, I called her to ask whither the item, and she left me a 27-minute voice mail explaining that she'd had a nervous breakdown and was not functioning and didn't know when she could, if ever, get me the kneeler I'd purchased.)

I was in despair. I would never fulfill my resolution to seriously make time to pray, and to mean it! It was May, and I was halfway through the year with no real spiritual self-improvement.

I finally got a kneeler from another eBay merchant, a retired Lutheran pastor. When it arrived, I tore the box from around the kneeler in huge strips, leaving the nylon cording, packing foam, and shards of cardboard all over the garage. I carried the plain oak kneeler with leatherette padding through the house and set it down in the spot that had been prepared for it. This was it, my chance to pray in peace.

And you know what? It worked. The kneeler is my sacred space, and I feel a little surge of joy when I pass the stack of prayer cards, the Magnificat, and my grandmother's rosary finally housed in a suitable place. No boogers, no bloody lips, no Irish whispers threatening dire consequences and no doughnuts after Mass if everyone doesn't just stop talking all through the homily.

Just me and my prie dieu.

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Kimberly Kunasek