As a child growing up Catholic in the 1970’s, I was taught to face my own death every night. I doubt that was the intention of the simple bedtime prayer I said from age three until my early teens. But that was the effect.
I imagine the prayer is familiar to some of you:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
and if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
This little rhyme put the idea of a “soul” or spirit into my awareness. The underlying assumption was that I, or my soul, somehow continued on even after death.
The prayer also offered me a taste of what it must be like to die. It must be similar to falling asleep, and never waking up again. I often wondered what that would feel like, and imagined falling asleep forever. And other questions popped up, too.
Where would I go? What about my soul? If Jesus or God “took it,” where would they take it?
Oddly, the possibility of dying in my sleep felt very real because of this seemingly innocent prayer. So I repeated it every night, without fail, just to be safe. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of dying. Then again, I wasn’t afraid of rain either. But I was told if I carried an umbrella, it might keep the rain away. And the adults seems to prefer that it didn’t rain.
So I carried my umbrella – and my beliefs – like they did.