Monday, January 23, 2017

The Lord's Prayer - Part I

Our Father
Yesterday at church the pastor encouraged us to pray the Lord’s Prayer five times a day for thirty days. Being the kind person he is, he said that if some were not able to do that, they could do it once a day for the first week, twice a day for the second week, and so on. Being the less-than-kind person that I am, I told him praying a simple prayer five times a day would not be too strenuous for anyone[1] and that he should retract that statement and push us harder. He wisely declined my less-than-gracious offer. Despite this small difference of opinion, I thought his idea was powerful and potentially life changing.
Growing up Catholic, I had, like many good Catholics, memorized the Lord’s Prayer (we called it the “Our Father” or Pater Noster in Latin) by the time I was five or six years old. (I also knew the Hail Mary prayer.) But, as Bloom’s taxonomy, a hierarchy of learning, shows us, memorization, while important and necessary, is only the beginning of learning. And, as with many things done by rote, I rarely reflected on this prayer. So, to keep the Lord’s Prayer from becoming a “vain repetition,”[2] and to understand what I was really praying, I decided to reflect on the various parts of the prayer.
The version I am using is from Matthew 6:9-13:
Our Father, which art in heaven,[3]
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.[4]
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.[5]
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

            The first words I reflect on are “Our Father.” The pastor said that this comes from a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) prayer. First I think of the word “our.” It is interesting that Jesus did not use the word “my.” He was the only one who could claim being the Son of God but he said “our.” He was sharing.  He also said “our,” not just for His present audience but for anyone who prayed this prayer throughout all time. Our – all of us.
Then there is the word “Father.” The concept of the Fatherhood of God was all but absent in the scriptures until this moment! (Let that sink in.) God as a father was mentioned fifteen times in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament whereas the concept is used over 165 times in the four gospels.[6] While the term father may not always have positive connotations for everyone, it brings the relationship between God and people to a whole new, more intimate level.
God, then, is our Father, mine, yours, ours, all of ours. He is the Father who helped me to Get Started and the Father who helps me to Keep Going.

[1] I was able to say this prayer aloud and at a normal pace in 23 seconds.
[2] Matthew 6:7: But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
[3] I may have learned it or am remembering it incorrectly, but I remember it saying “who art in heaven,” not “which.”
[4] I also remember “on earth,” not “in earth.”
[5] I remember “those who trespass,” not “them that.”