As each one passed when I was a little girl, I would say a Hail Mary.
"Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with Thee
Blessed art Thou amongst women and
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Sirens blaring, approaching now. I can see the lights. It's a racing ambulance. I pull over.
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death."
By the age of twelve, I could speed pray this, reaching "death" before seeing the ambulance lights. The irony was not lost on me as an adult.
I still utter these words if an ambulance should catch me off-guard and unawares in traffic.
Twenty years between today and when I first learned that prayer. Twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary, one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry. Much theology, reflection and development has happened between today and that day I first sat in my 1st grade Catholic school classroom and learned the Hail Mary. Memorized it by writing it out 30 times. Learned to pray at sight or sound of every ambulance. Twenty years and I still do it.
I used to feel embarrassed about it. One time on a plane in severe turbulence I literally put my hand over my mouth because while I couldn't stop the prayer rolling off my lips, I was determined to not be seen being spiritually inconsistent! I also still pray to St. Anthony when I lose something REALLY important, like the T.V. remote. It's like auto-pilot.
Now, I don't believe in intercessory prayer personally. I don't have any trouble with folks that do, but I used to feel embarrassed in my rational religion to be caught dead (again irony not lost on me) praying to anyone as an intercession let alone a saint! But here is what I've come to know after the last twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary and one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry-- I've come to learn the world is a lot more complicated than I can ever understand. I've learned that the earliest things we experience about religion and spirituality can create grooves of sort in our minds and even bodies. Auto-pilot indeed, for the spirit.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The grooves can help us keep balance, and embracing the limitations of our minds for the comfort of memory and grace. Calling on the saints can actually lead me farther along my paths. Really?
I think so.
I've learned to not be ashamed that I might say prayers inconsistent with my exact beliefs, or that I might have beliefs inconsistent with the norms of my communities (yes even UU congregations have norms). In truth, we, humans, tend to be consistently inconsistent creatures. Come to think of it, life tends to be consistently inconsistent. And maybe we are all somewhere in between the worn paths in our spirit and the new ones of our chosen communities, trying to find our way home in whatever way we can.
So you are likely to see me praying a Hail Mary on I-85 right before preaching a sermon about the Transcendentalists and a human Jesus. Yup, consistently inconsistent, but still moved by sirens to offer what grace lips can speak and hands can hold. Still moved to pull over and pray for healing on behalf of a stranger. Calling on the saints and whoever else might pitch in to help.