Rosalyn D' Mello: Say a little prayer for me

Published: Mar 30, 2018, 06:34 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello | Mumbai

Rediscovering the Serenity Prayer, the premise of which is not the existence of a wish-granting God, but one’s own sense of self-awareness

I believe prayer to be a form of breathing; a meditative exercise, one that compels your body and mind to be re-aligned. Representation pic
I believe prayer to be a form of breathing; a meditative exercise, one that compels your body and mind to be re-aligned. Representation pic

I should have known mercury was in retrograde. But, since I hadn't been reading Susan Miller's monthly forecasts, I wasn't better prepared. This month of March brought along with its fair share of welcome surprises, a series of unexpected disappointments. Well-paying, prestigious assignments that fell through for reasons not clear to me; and bureaucratic hurdles the kind I hadn't previously encountered, thanks to inexplicable hiccups. I would have liked for the month to have ended on a high, especially since its concluding also marks the closing of the financial year.

Over these weeks I found myself frequently not in control of many aspects concerning my immediate fate. So, naturally, I fell prey to an old habit; one I'd adopted not necessarily out of choice so much as had a tendency towards because of childhood conditioning. I began to pray. I believe prayer to be a form of breathing; a meditative exercise, one that compels your body and mind to be re-aligned, to converse with each other and to surrender to something that is outside their collective purview; something that might, in fact, govern their functioning. I used to be rather good at conceiving of prayers, but my forté has always been the thanksgiving mode. I also prefer the notion of goodness for the sake of goodness, and not for moral desert. I believe you must make every attempt to be a good person not because there is a reward waiting for you when you die; like an afterlife; but rather, by accepting the possibility that heaven may not exist.

Growing up Catholic, I learned that if you ask, you shall receive. There was a kind of unconditional biblical guarantee that I always found a bit suspicious. It was one of those dictums no one really explained to you. I've never been good at asking, because the act of asking often suggests an entitlement that I find discomforting. Because I was a little off practice, I made the rookie mistake of petitioning to the "source" to make my problem go away. But, soon enough I realised that what I ought to ask the "source" for was really the strength to deal with said problem. Then, because I tried to distract myself with an episode of Season 4 of Transparent, I rediscovered "The Serenity Prayer". It was like I'd been hit by lightning. Here was a delicious invocation/incantation/intercession that was so remarkably secular in its intonation. It didn't depend on the existence of any specific belief system or nomenclature. It had three clauses following the addressal to the source:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. The original version is much longer, and is credited to an American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. And most of us associate it with alcoholic anonymous groups and 12-step programmes. But really, in a nutshell, it could be a prayer for anyone; particularly if you have an activist inclination, because the premise of the prayer is not the existence of a wish-granting God, but one's own sense of self-awareness. Once you recognise your inability to change things that are beyond your control, there is a peace that comes from acceptance. Yet, as feminists, we must constantly be wary of the dangers of normalisation, because that is how patriarchal institutions functioned for so many centuries, by operating through the veneer of normalcy. Which is why courage is a hopeful thing to ask for; in order to be able to change the things we are actually capable of changing.

If there was one grace I did actively pray for through my childhood and girlhood years into adolescence and adulthood; one thing that I asked the "source" for, it was wisdom. I had, long ago, given up on my requests for beauty and its corollaries. All I wanted was to be wise. I didn't understand what it meant even, to be wise. I think I imagined it as one of those Moses and the Burning Bush moments. You go up a mountain, confront the divine, then return as someone who is 'in the know'. Moses's accrual of wisdom is suggested by his returning from the Mount with white hair. I see now how the white hair was a metaphor; a way of suggesting that Moses had spent time on the mountain, perhaps praying, perhaps meditating, perhaps breathing, so that by the time he returned, his hair had turned grey.

All these years later, as I inch towards 33, I find I have no shortage of grey hair. But I also find I am not as wise as I would have liked to have been. What I am, though, is perhaps preferable. It's a term that has its origin in the Black Lives Matter Movement. It references a state of being eternally cognisant of socio-political injustices and vigilant of the insidious ways in which power structures operate. I am woke.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to

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