Before we can even speak, there is the kiss.
My youngest, now 16 months, just learned to kiss a little while ago. It’s sloppy, wet, open-mouthed kissing–the kind only a parent can love and appreciate. She saw me kiss my eldest daughter after a bad fall, and came over to generously give of her own kisses. An enthusiastic grunt accompanied each one. Then, she turned and gave the same grunting-open-mouthed appreciation to the icons we had hung at kid-level in the bedroom. After all, she had seen the older kids doing it–it must be what they’re for.
I mark this as her first prayer. She can’t speak, but she can understand so very much. It’s easy to dismiss these early gestures as cute, perhaps meaningless imitation, but I do not believe them to be so. When we teach our little ones what things are for, we are teaching them profound things, even if they learn by mere imitation.
I think about the piano lessons I am taking alongside my two older children. My teacher has me repeating scales over and over again. They are rote, meaningless gestures, and the game is to see how much more quickly and accurately I can do them. They are sloppy, open-mouthed musical kisses, but someday they will become the full and beautiful prayers of recognizable songs and compositions. Some day, my littlest will grow up, and the kiss will be just one of many ways that she gives her heart to God.