Mummy woke up at ungodly hours to pray. Adorned in white. With one hand she would sprinkle holy water held in a white keg and swing her incense burner with the other. I loved the familiarity of the sweet smelling musky smoke that engulfed our home. I hated how the smoke stuck to every item of clothing; lingering in the house for hours, announcing us as foreigners to unfamiliar western friends.
Mummy prayed for each of her children according to their birth order, Iwalola. Omowunmi. Folashade. Moses. Titilolami. She could have prayed for us collectively and halved her prayer time. But she took the long route, one by one. Perhaps she thought God needed to be reminded that she had four daughters and a son. Perhaps she was pleading with him not to inadvertently forget one or two.
Mummy had a standard list of prayer requests; good health, long life, good husbands, good children. Never wealth, never great careers. Her list aligned with her values. And it didn’t change unless we were going through a particular challenge. If I had exams coming up, she would add success to the list. And if she was upset or disappointed about our behavior, she would add obedience and rebuke bad influences.
I always thought the prayers for good husbands took precedence over other requests. I could tell by the slight change in her tone and pitch. She would raise her voice ever so slightly, tilt her head towards the heaven and swing the incense burner a bit more vigorously before embarking on the request for God fearing men; Men who would love and provide for her daughters and their offsprings. The prayer always started in the positive; the things she wanted in a son in-law. And then she would pray against husbands who only sought to use her daughters to obtain British citizenship. She would pray against low life’s. These included uneducated men, men with a family history of mental illnesses, men whose families practised juju, unemployed men, philanderers, or any man whose behaviour or character didn’t glorify her God.
The prayers for my brother were special. In addition to the general requests for long life, good health and in his case a good wife, mummy would pray against physical and spiritual enemies who aimed to change, steal or alter her son’s destiny. She would pray against ancestral curses, demonic influences and bad company. The prayers for him took the longest and were the most farfetched. Up until now I remain bemused that she placed so much emphasis on unseen attackers, instead of attacking visible forces.
I’m sure my mother’s prayers haven’t changed very much. I’m sure they didn’t get shorter with each marriage. Indeed they must have grown longer with the birth of each grandchild. I’m sure she has carried on the tradition of calling each grandchild by name; offering identical prayers on their behalf. I’m sure she is relieved to have us girls out of the house and with that the freedom to pray in her Nigerian dialect, without switching from English, to Ondo, to Yoruba, trying but failing to accommodate the various ears of her children. I’m sure she still starts with the recitation of a psalm, followed by the the different names folks call God; Jehovah, Jesu Kristi, Holy st Michael, Oba Imole. I’m sure she still ends her prayers with Psalm 23 and not the Lords prayer.
OLUWA ni Oluṣọ-agutan mi; emi kì yio ṣe alaini.
O mu mi dubulẹ ninu papa-oko tutù; o mu mi lọ si iha omi didakẹ rọ́rọ́.
O tù ọkàn mi lara; o mu mi lọ nipa ọ̀na ododo nitori orukọ rẹ̀.
Nitõtọ, bi mo tilẹ nrìn larin afonifoji ojiji ikú, emi kì yio bẹ̀ru ibi kan; nitori ti Iwọ pẹlu mi; ọgọ rẹ ati ọpá rẹ nwọn ntù mi ninu.
Iwọ tẹ́ tabili onjẹ silẹ niwaju mi li oju awọn ọta mi; iwọ dà ororo si mi li ori; ago mi si kún akúnwọsilẹ.
Nitotọ, ire ati ãnu ni yio ma tọ̀ mi lẹhin li ọjọ aiye mi gbogbo; emi o si ma gbe inu ile Oluwa lailai
And here I am, at that same ungodly hour, head raised to the heaven in prayer. I I pray for my children, calling on each by name in order, offering identical prayers . At this ungodly hour perhaps there are just a few billion of us clamoring for God’s attention. soon I’ll be back to quick mornings mumblings, thanking you in 30 seconds flat and trusting you to know and appease the desires of my heart. I’ll miss our midnight rendezvous just as I miss my mother’s prayers.
First published as a Facebook Note.