International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Trauma and World Literature: The Night I Learned How Not to Pray by Iris Dement

03/29/2019
by Howard Lipke
Ever since the release of her first album in 1992, the singer-songwriter Iris Dement has earned wide recognition and respect for her work. Her 2012 album, Sing the Delta, includes the song, The Night I Learned How Not to Pray. In the few minutes of her rendition of the song, Dement’s words, music and voice show the profound, long-lasting effects of traumatic loss, especially in childhood.
 
The song opens poignantly as a young child watches her little brother take a disastrous fall down the stairs, and then tells how she was “sure if [she] prayed hard enough, that God would make it right.”
In the final verse Dement sings:
 
It was 41 years later when I took my brother’s picture out of a box,
Hung it on the wall and sat across from him and I began to talk,
When the evening started, I didn't know what I was going to say.
But before the night was over, I told them all about how I learned not to pray.
 

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