On the Mexico side of the border, the city is called Tijuana. But its California sister, just on this side, is San Ysidro (ee-SEED-row). It is a city named for St. Isidore the Farmer, a Spanish peasant whose prayers were so lovely that God sent angels to plow his fields so he could spend his days praying.
Last week, Catholics celebrated the annual feast day of San Ysidro.
Isidore is the official protector of all Catholic farmers.
At times, over the years, I've wondered what it was that made the man's prayers so remarkable and made him, as a result, such a beloved saint.
Were his prayers filled with soaring metaphors and stirring language?
Were they wildly creative and original?
No, I don't think so.
Isidore was a Catholic who lived a thousand years ago; which means his prayers were probably all "prayers by rote" — written prayers like "Our Father who art in heaven" and "Hail Mary, full of grace."
Isidore used the same words over and over when he prayed.
What made those words special, I suspect, was the weight of humility and sincerity he put behind them.
Most religions today use "rote prayers" of one form or another. In the LDS Church, for instance, the sacrament prayers are scripted.
But what brings such prayers to life isn't their originality. What makes them sing is the heart of the person who utters them.
I've thought how often — even in our non-scripted prayers — we lapse into familiar phrases.
We say, "take us home in safety" or "with gratitude in our hearts" or "bless the soldiers in the Armed Forces."
I have heard entire prayers uttered that did not have an original sentence in them.
And you know, that's okay.
That's what I've learned from the story of St. Isidore the Farmer.
Unoriginal is okay.
What matters aren't the words.
What matters is the quality of the soul who says them.
Little children who are first learning to pray can go months without saying a sentence they haven't said before.
But would any of us tinker with those prayers?
Just as no child can draw a bad picture, no child can utter an unacceptable prayer.
And by the same token, no "child of God," when speaking from the heart, can utter a unacceptable prayer.
I confess. God has never sent angels to do my work for me so I can spend my days praying. I'm a long way from that point.
But I have heard prayers spoken by men, women and children — prayers built out of well-worn phrases — that were so touching, authentic and real, I would not have been surprised the next day to see angels mowing their lawns and vacuuming their carpets so God could listen to them pray.