“She inhaled a worry. She exhaled a prayer. Truth be told, Mom was holier than the rest of our family, but she wasn't a holy roller, if you know what I mean. Deep inside, she just believed.”
— “The God Box”
In the back of her beloved mother's closet, a grieving daughter found containers filled with scraps of paper that surprised and delighted her.
Mary Lou Quinlan, of New York City, had been searching for her mom's “God's Box” — a small wicker box in which the older woman placed her prayers and petitions to the Lord.
On the night before her mother's funeral in 2006, Quinlan struck gold: At the back of a closet, she found not one box, but 10 boxes, stuffed with prayer petitions spanning about two decades.
“In the God Boxes, she had left a 20-year love letter to us in a thousand pieces,” Quinlan wrote in her new book “The God Box: Sharing My Mother's Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go.”
The book has spawned a popular blog and movement called The God Box Project as Quinlan shares about the tenacious faith of her mother Mary Finlayson. Finlayson's huge capacity to listen to others and pray on their behalf also fuels Quinlan's one-woman show titled “The God Box,” which recently debuted in New York City. And a God Box mobile application will be available soon on iTunes.
In a telephone interview, Quinlan said she is hoping the book causes others to create their own God Box, step up their efforts to pray for others and to let go of the results, trusting God.
Quinlan said she still recalls her astonishment at how detailed her mother's prayer petitions were, some written on notebook paper while others were written on the back of receipts and other tiny pieces of
“We were reading about children who were in the hospital, then we'd read ‘Please protect my Ray,' her husband and my dad,” Quinlan said.
“It was like walking through our lives.”
Quinlan said she was struck by the simplicity of her mother's actions.
“She'd grab whatever was nearby,” Quinlan said, adding that her mother could have placed the prayer requests in an organized fashion like a diary or journal.
“Rather than take the chance that she would forget, she did it this way. It's not fancy. It's simple.”
Quinlan said the act of writing out the prayer petition obviously brought her mother satisfaction.
“When you write it down, suddenly what is in your mind takes form. You feel like you are helping someone,” she said.
Quinlan said she also was intrigued and heartened by the depth of her mother's faith. Finlayson's obvious answer to life's twists and turns was to turn to the Lord.
Whatever the circumstances, whether it was a major crisis or something more mundane, “she really did believe that God did care about it,” Quinlan said.
Out of the box
“Unlike Mom, I leave my God Box out on a table so I can tell people about the ritual and about her.”
— “The God Box”
Quinlan said her family and friends thought the “The God Box” book told Finlayson's story in such a way that others would want to emulate her — and they were right. People from all over the globe have sent emails, letters and posted blog entries and videos telling Quinlan how they have captured the essence of her mother's idea.
Quinlan said she couldn't be more pleased.
“I just love telling her story,” she said.
“They want to start their own God Boxes. My dream is that millions and millions of people would make these God Boxes and that they would say these prayers and then let them go.”
Quinlan said she was touched that her mother cared about her needs, large and small, as evidenced by the prayer petitions found in her God Box.
She said there is a tendency for sons and daughters to take the preciousness of a mother's love for granted, but her hope is that “The God Box” will cause people to think about motherhood and a mother's faith.
“I hope that people will reflect on their mothers and their own mothering,” she said.
“My mother was a fierce protector and a loyal mother, and there are many mothers out there just like that.”