In my last post I talked a little bit about prayer, and what many historically call the “Lord’s prayer” (in Christian tradition). My thoughts were generated by the “group recitation” of those words at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 2; the crowd quietly repeating them raised a question in my mind as to how much they really had thought about their meaning – and then, considering what they mean to me. I decided it was time to share about that here, and it leaves me feeling – vulnerable, inadequate and nonqualified! As I approach 65, with a lot of life changes in my last few years and more than one reminder recently that life is unpredictable, I am more aware than ever that we can never know the answers to many questions that individuals and societies have asked throughout history. But being raised in what, back in the 60’s, in a “conservative” church, the lessons of Sunday school, and later Bible studies, continue to resonate in my memory and to color much of how I see our world, and my life, and our place in it. They are a part of my tapestry of life, and those colors still are vibrant, and the harmonies still echo.
I don’t know how to write about spiritual matters; I don’t have a theological background. I would never pretend to be certain about anything, or to try to defend my own precariously balanced beliefs through debate; there are people I love in my life who think and feel very differently on many issues, and I treasure them and our relationships much more than “being right”. Perhaps that guiding principle is one we need to seek more in this time of divide, and yet … I feel like somehow, sharing my reflections on what is, for many “people of faith” who follow Christian tenets, is foundational scripture … is worth expressing. So … this is very much just “me”, ahead. Just what comes into my heart when there is quiet, or when I try to find some sense of order and hope in all the jumble of a life that seems to be constantly shifting. Lately, that is happening more than I would like.
A point of reference – I use the word “God”, and the “He/His” pronouns, primarily because that is what I was raised with – but I realize there are many words, many names and that gender is just another frame of reference with many cultural implications. I would hope that the reader would be kind and overlook differences they may have with this approach, because ultimately, it’s not those words are not what we should be focused on but, individually or together, seeking truths our hearts can acknowledge. Truths that lead to a better life for us, and for those we love. My reflections will be segmented in the way that makes sense to me; I see four major components to the prayer – Identity; relationship; entreaty; and praise.
“Our father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
The prayer begins not with focusing on what we want, but a recognition, a statement of overriding truth – that there is a Creator, and that our relationship with Him is likened to a parent and child – one based in love. These few words comprise a foundational acknowledgement that there is something greater than my understanding, known by many names, that brought me and all of us into being. Admitting this includes turning to that source of life with reverence, and in worship. Following this statement of faith, is another acknowledgement – that seeking His kingdom is meant to be a focus in our life – but what is the Kingdom of God? So many have claimed that their vision of the “kingdom of God” justifies war, hatred, exclusion – but if we just look at this as a whole, I see a different perspective. The “kingdom” of God on this earth is not one made of buildings, or systems, or churches or corporations or cults; it is our spirits, which we choose to surrender, ongoing, as we seek our way through life. To let that kingdom “come”, to have His “will be done”, is each of us making a choice – to give that loving source of life our acceptance, our broken, tender and lost little hearts, as best we can, and sharing it with others while we are able. To give God, as we understand God, that authority in our life daily, is the closest to heaven on earth that we can, for now, experience and offer one another. For His kingdom on earth to be realized, His will to be accomplished, requires our choice to be His agents; to give Him our hearts, and to let them be used as channels of that greater Life. A firm declaration of God’s nature, and our place in His kingdom.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
After this statement, an acknowledgment of God’s identity, comes an admission, an acceptance of our relationship to Him. First – we will always be dependent on our Creator for our needs. We are not and never were in control; we can only work towards what we are able but there will always be a gap between our hopes and our realities, and it is to God we must turn, in faith, to bridge that gap. It is a daily hunger, it is a daily need, it is a daily journey, one step at a time. It is a willingness to say, yes, this is my way of life; in a culture that elevates knowledge and certainty and self-sufficiency, this is a daring refutation, a defiant reshaping of our thinking and expectations – that our relationship with our Creator is fundamentally walking in trust without answers and dependence instead of strength. As to how we relate to those who enter our lives in many ways – we must recognize and live out the truth that our relationship with others requires forgiveness, from us, and to us. We need one another, and only with forgiveness can we create the world we long for; only by acknowledging our imperfect, often failing, humanity, can we turn to one another and together build anew. Receiving forgiveness, in wholeness, requires our sharing it freely as well; our standing in love and trust with that source of life, cannot be complete without offering it to one another. Can there be a greater challenge to our ego than to admit I have failed, and to accept that others have failed me? It is the deepest forgiveness that comes at the highest price, but that we yearn for. In two simple phrases, filled with powerful truths, we are challenged to live in dependence and trust towards a Creator beyond our fully knowing – and to give others forgiveness without demanding more, in order to know that grace ourselves fully.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Finally, after acknowledging, confessing truths that may not fit what we were taught, or represent the dreams and wishes we desire – it is time to ask. I like the word “entreaty”; it is defined as an earnest and humble request. It’s more than a hope, or a wish; it is a plea, one that acknowledges we need help. How odd that we should have to ask God to NOT lead us into temptations; after all the shaming and lecturing and moralizing about our evil natures, for centuries this phrases has challenged our understanding. Funny, in a way, because when you sit down and go honestly through most of the narrative stories in what is called our Bible, there are so many instances of God defying expectation, seemingly even delighting is disappointing hopes, in refusing to be predictable and yet, demanding faith. Why on earth would we need to ask God to not lead us into temptation? I cannot say with certainty, and apparently neither can the recent announcement by the Pope that this should be rephrased (you can find more about this here). But experts in those ancient texts are adamant that this is exactly what it says – please, God, don’t tempt me. Perhaps the best I can take from this is some comfort in knowing, as it says elsewhere in scripture, that temptation is (gasp) normal; failure to be perfect is pretty much standard (No!); that my weakness is a fact of life that God’s love is big enough to overlook. Perhaps it somehow makes a difference as we struggle with our weaknesses to acknowledge that daily, to admit I need help. As far as deliverance from evil – historically, evil has done pretty well on this planet, and again sometimes I have to admit I am a part of that – with anger, with selfishness, with bitterness. I find myself asking – could it be that this plea for “deliverance” is not one of “save me from someone else’s evil towards me”, but … “free me from that within me that seeks to commit evil, and help me to be a greater agent of Your love despite my imperfect heart”? In short – these few, mysterious words acknowledge that I need help to find my way – I need light in the darkness. Right now, that seems truer than ever, for us all. We seek that light in many different ways, but there is one ultimate source….
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Glory, and the Power, Forever – Amen.
And so we close with a final, full statement of the ultimate authority and power of our Creator, as best we can know Him and His will. Apparently, this is considered by some to be “added on” doxology. Perhaps so! Perhaps someone who thought they were doing good felt it added an exclamation point of sorts for dramatic effect. It sure makes for a crescendo in that closing hymn arrangement! I’ll never know – but it speaks to me. It is a towering, overriding exclamation of faith – one that says let go of trying to have it all, because He already does. He holds the keys to the kingdom, He has the answers. Sure, for some, that can be seen as an easy “cop out” – just give up. But I see it as an act of worship and faith – acknowledging that whatever greater Power is out there, by whatever name we might best understand it, endures, and that a purpose which we may never know is working in us, through us, loving us and one another beyond. All the things that I often am drawn to strive for, to worry about, to bicker over, fade away when bathed in the brilliant light I just need to stop and look up to realize surrounds it, and us, all. This final statement is one of undiluted, unlimited, and honest praise.
One final observation, for now …. As I pointed out, there is really only one “ask” in this prayer. It’s not about wish fulfillment or the kindly old grandpa in the stars granting requests of the pious. Of course, there are many times in Christian scripture where people of faith asked for more specific needs, but … perhaps prayer isn’t really about asking for something as much as it is trying to connect with that source which is itself, the only answer we really long for? And … did you notice that, outside of the references to God, the Divine, the Creator – everything else isn’t “me”, it isn’t “I” – but us. OUR father; give US this day OUR daily bread; forgive US; WE forgive OTHERS. Prayer is as much of an acknowledgement that we exist together in community, we seek answers together, we struggle together – not alone. Again, we need one another.
Friends, remember this – faith only really matters when you have doubts without “proof”, questions without certainly. There are, as with any matter of faith, countless perspectives on whether the individual we call Jesus said these words, or which words, or to whom and when. All valid questions, that cannot be answered with factual documentation, really; out of the four “gospels” which have different histories and inconsistencies of many events of Christ, only two have the prayer, one at the crowds attending the “Sermon on the Mount” and another at a gathering of Christ with only his disciples. The two have differing phrases, the “original Greek” texts are inconsistent (and were themselves hardly contemporary), the Catholics and Protestants of course have their own versions, and of course there are numerous translations of the Bible. Talk about a multiverse, Marvel does not have the only claim to different representations of reality! Here is a link to a 1988 article about doubts as to veracity of just about everything I just commented on – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-10-18-mn-4561-story.html
For your reference and perhaps edification, or to raise even more questions that evade simple answers, I am providing links to two resources – first, a “comparative” presentation of different Bible “translations” of these passages – you can download the pdf here …. https://wartburgproject.org/mdocs-posts/the-lords-prayer-in-five-versions/
And, a fascinating history of the “evolution” of translations over the centuries … food for thought, or perhaps evidence that there is ultimately no final “right” answers … https://www.csdirectory.com/biblestudy/lords-prayer.pdf
For now – as I write, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Just as we sometimes rush through a day that, at least in someone’s original intent, was to take time to remember our blessings – setting that aside to check the upcoming sales, and plan for social events – it is far too easy to avoid thinking about issues that raise hard questions; disappointments and bitterness with teachings that didn’t seem to fit reality; pain from the loss of love that we had held dear, and regrets for choices that we thought would make dreams come true. It is hard to be thankful when our challenges engulf us. Perhaps, it is now, we need to pray the most. I hope my simple reflections perhaps raise questions, even tough ones, that ultimately you can choose to face and work through – or, to ignore. Choices are what create our own, ultimately personal, truths – our lives are our prayers, lived out, shared, or hoarded and kept shut away. Ultimately prayer has the power to change our hearts, and through us, to give hope and love to others seeking the same.
I will write more soon about my own battles with prayer, with faith; my own unanswered cries and beyond that, my choices to continue to shape and define me. Until then …. thank you for sitting a while with me, wherever, whenever you are; I hope you never give up seeking answers, and finding those that help you share just a little bit more of whatever light you find. I’ll be looking alongside you.