Monday, November 5, 2012

I am morbid, but I come by it honestly.

One of my favorite possessions is a little book my grandma gave me this summer. A friend had given it to her, and Grandma thought I might like it to use with T-Rex, or at least find it interesting.

I do plan to use it with T-Rex (though because of the book's age and condition, it will, as Mom says, "be one you read to him, not one he gets to read"), but it is fascinating in and of itself.

Prayers for Little Ones
The book is called Prayers for Little Ones (Gebete fuer die Kleinen = Prayers for the small), and it was published in 1909 by the Lutheran Book Concern of Columbus, Ohio.

Little Prayer Book for Children

"Ask, and so it will be given to you all."
(Did you know that both the command "Ask"
and the you are plural in that verse?)
It categorizes prayers by time of day and topic, beginning with Morning Prayers, moving through the day to Evening Prayers, and hitting several other topics.
Morning Prayers
Upon Getting Up
The Holy Father (Lord's Prayer) and the Creed
(I guess this indicates you should say them, since they're not printed.)
Most of the topics are the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a kids' prayer book: table prayers, prayers for the end of the week, prayers for school and studies and for church.

 The table prayers section includes prayers for before and after eating:

Table Prayers
Before the Meal
Bless, Father, this food
For our nourishment and your praise. Amen.
The second of those eating prayers may be familiar to many of you: "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest...." The second line here translates to, "And bless, what you have given us. Amen," which is the same sentiment as the usual English line "And let these gifts to us be blest."

As I paged through the book, however, one prayer caught my eye:

Upon the Pre-commitment of a Corpse
Lord, teach us to remember that we must die,
that we might become wise. (Psalm 90:12)
As you can see, the book uses an old-fashioned sort of print, and sometimes it's hard to make out the words. So at first I thought I had misread that word: Leiche.

Because I was pretty sure I knew what Leiche means.

Leiche means corpse.

But I read through the title again: Beim Voruebergeben an einer Leiche. By the...pre-over-giving?...of a corpse. Uebergeben means, literally, give over, i.e. commit. Vor- is the prefix pre-.

So. Here was a prayer to say before committing (resigning? surrendering? this isn't a term we use much these days in English) a corpse. A prayer, basically, before a funeral.

In a children's book.

Let's just pause for a moment to reflect on the fact that, a mere hundred-and-three years ago, we were routinely teaching children prayers to say for dead people. Prayers that would probably be recited while you sat up all night with the corpse in your living room, the corpse washed and clothed by family members and laid out before it would be collected in the morning, taken to the church and then the graveyard.

In some parts of the world, corpses are still a part of every child's life.

I've mentioned before that I'm something of a worrier, and there's plenty I fret about with T-Rex even now, before he's even born. But then there's this prayer, beim Voruebergeben an einer Leiche.

I need to remember that kids are tough, and resilient, and if children can survive hanging out with dead bodies, they can probably survive the occasional diet soda or Disney movie.

I look forward to reading these German prayers to T-Rex, to teaching him a bit of Deutsch. At some point, we'll probably even say the prayer beim Voruebergeben an einer Leiche. Because people are born, and people die, and though we've sanitzed and sterilized and distanced ourselves from the entire process, there's really no hiding death from anyone.

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