Q: As I approach my 74th birthday, I recall saying a nightly prayer as a child:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.
I wonder where this prayer came from. Can you help me? -- J., via email@example.com
A: Like the parable of the long spoons, which I discussed recently, this is also a famous spiritual gem whose origins are obscure. Some say it is an Old English prayer, but I am not sure. The language is not Old English-y enough. The most convincing theory comes from a visitor to an Internet site (http://glory2godforallthings.com/2007/11/05/now-i-lay-me-down-to-sleep) who offers this learned suggestion:
"Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" was once the best known prayer in England, used more often than the Lord's Prayer. It was called the "White Paternoster."
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
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