I first heard the Lord’s Prayer in Mexico, during a family trip when I was 11 years old. I strayed from the Oaxaca market square, where my parents were bargaining over black pottery, and slipped into an old stone church, cool and dark. There were clusters of women in lace mantillas, and one or two solitary old men. Some were silent. Some whispered, some chanted in unison with the priest, “Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos: Santificado sea tu nombre.” I never forgot the sound of these words, and their sensory associations lingered as I found myself repeating them in my heart.
Later, on the plush carpet of our living room, 12 stories above the East River in Manhattan, I learned my first catechism, taking the Agnus Dei not from a missal, but from my parents’ phonograph record of Bach’s B Minor Mass, and the Kyrie and Credo from the Congolese Missa Luba. It was several years before I encountered any of these words in spoken English prose.