Editor’s note: This article is the fourth in a four-part series exploring the relevance of Martin Luther’s catechism for our lives today.
Now that I am staring 50 in the face, the Small Catechism is speaking to me differently than those confirmation days when I was suffering the outrageous slings and arrows of adolescence. Now that I am trying to be more mindful of my faith formation, I have recently discovered Luther’s advice for morning and evening, the daily rituals that mark the rising and setting of the sun.
Luther advises us to make the sign of the cross, saying the words “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and then (either kneeling or standing) say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. He then directs us to say a prayer of our own choosing or the ones he provides (which are different depending on the time of day). All in all, it is a daily ritual that combined would take about five minutes. Apparently I’m not completely finished with my adolescence, because I have never adopted this practice, though I am prayerfully considering it because of three little words in the evening prayer ritual: “quickly and cheerfully.”
First, Luther advises us to pray these words every evening after the creed and Lord’s Prayer: “I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angels be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
Finally, Luther writes, “Then you are to go to sleep quickly and cheerfully” (my emphasis).
Quickly and cheerfully. The “quickly” part is easy for me—when I take a book to bed and am snoring away before I can finish a chapter. The “cheerful” part is a little more puzzling. I would like to think that we should all go to bed with grateful hearts for the gift of this life, but cheerfully? Images of Mary Poppins come to mind, and this prim and proper lifestyle scares me. I’m more likely to toss my clothes on a chair, gargle some mouthwash, and fall into bed with growling and copious punching of the pillow. Some days make cheerfully all but impossible. Some nights, sleep does not come at all.
Luther was no stranger to insomnia. From about 1521 until his death, he was under a great deal of stress and various physical ailments that made sleep difficult, said Bernhard Lohse, former Luther Scholar at the University of Hamburg. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Luther the person knows that he was high-strung, brilliant, obdurate and often profane—not exactly a guy who would go to sleep “quickly and cheerfully.” That being said, perhaps his inability to sleep was in part the reason for his choice of words in the Small Catechism. Perhaps “quickly and cheerfully” was not only meant for us, but Luther himself.
That being said, perhaps (Luther’s) inability to sleep was in part the reason for his choice of words in the Small Catechism.
The upshot of all this speculation is that the words “quickly and cheerfully” are probably more than the sum of their parts. Perhaps they speak to a more overarching demeanor that ought to permeate our daily living. Quickly and cheerfully do not apply to every aspect of our day-to-day existence, of course, but they speak to a general attitude of positive gumption that comes from a person who is mindfully present in the moment and living out one’s faith through daily ritual, ambient awareness, or even a moment of grace before a fast-food meal.
Quickly and cheerfully—I may not be able to carry this out next time I am working on my monthly expense report, but maybe when it comes to showing appreciation for a gift, sharing compassion with my wife and kids, or even making out a check for my monthly offering, I would do well to have this positive gumption in my emotional toolbox. I’m not quite to the part where I whistle while I work, but thanks to Luther, I’m trying to be more mindful of God’s gift of daily life.