If I should die before I ‘wake
The intense but meaningful task of planning your own funeral
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
Strangely, in my childhood in the 1950’s, I was taught this child’s prayer. The prayer haunted me throughout my youth. I wondered what it would be like to die in my sleep. More worrisome was the image of someone ‘taking’ my soul.
Even as a child, I had a sense that “my soul” is somehow my essence or who I am as a living being. But soul snatching? Who or what would do such a thing? If the Lord didn’t take my soul, who or what would? If my essence could be taken, where would I end up? And this was well before the spate of zombie movies where theatres full of people would tremble as armies of the undead reaped havoc on ordinary American citizens who had spent their lives safely watching ‘Leave It To Beaver and Archie & Edith Bunker.
The form of the prayer first appeared in the 17th century colonial school books and was attributed to Joseph Addison in his popular essay in The Spectator on March 8, 1711. But somewhere long before the prayer made its way into the bedtime tradition in my childhood, religious leaders should have sounded the alarm.
Even moderately enlightened clergy of the 1950’s should have scoffed at the notion of soul snatching — especially abducting souls of sleeping children. And if there was thought to be cosmic competitive gamesmanship operating between the forces of good and evil, why inflict that anxiety on a child just before they are drifting off to sleep? “If God and the Devil wrestle for my eternal soul, let’s hope God wins! And if God wins, where would God put my soul after a sweaty and perhaps bloody contest for it? Suppose God loses?
Well, enough with the macabre child’s prayer. It’s miserable theology. It is horrible psychological rubble and fortunately, the verse has fallen into disuse. Yet if we die, in our sleep or we get hit by a Big Blue Bus when we are crossing Wilshire Blvd., what happens then?
By now, we have come to some claptrap amalgamation of strained metaphysical, philosophical and threadbare religious imaginings of what happens to us after we die. Such…