Last Saturday in a very crowded church at the end of a thankfully short wedding (my niece was white-faced and swaying on her feet from low blood sugar, even with her groom gripping her hands tightly and all the groomsmen, particularly the two military men in the group, were poised and ready to leap, should the swaying turn into a faint), we all joined in saying what we Protestants call 'The Lord's Prayer,' and Catholics call the 'Our Father.' Whatever it's called, it's the one prayer every Christian knows, even the most nominal among us, even those who only darken the doors of a church for weddings and funerals and even then, quite reluctantly. Saturday, I might have even been sitting by a few in my extended family who count themselves exactly that reluctant. Still, when the ancient abbot began "Our Father who art in Heaven..." I noticed even those reluctant beside me mouthing the words. And the whole church said the words together, in the rhythmic cadence so familiar to anyone who's ever said that prayer. Actually, it's more like a drone than a cadence, if you want my honest opinion, which you get, if you've clicked onto this blog and are reading this post. Like it or not!
Just a couple of nights earlier, my oldest niece, her mother and I had a great conversation about this prayer as we ate a quite dinner together. It was probably the only quite moment of a very wild week, was like a deep draught of fresh air amid all the wedding madness. Somehow, we began talking about how we pray for people. My niece, always organized, carries that into her prayer life, and even uses the Lord's prayer as a cornerstone of praying for others. That made us talk about how people pray that prayer without thinking about it.
The thing is, I told her, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and when He did, He knocked their sandals off. "When you pray, say, 'Our Father...'" We don't think about it, because we've known it our whole lives, had it handed down for 2000 years, but to speak of God as Father was so radical, so unbelievably new, that it elementally changed prayer for good. If He had told them nothing else about prayer, just being about to relate to God, the Holy Other, as the intimately close Father transformed their relationship with Him. Imagine if that was the first time you'd ever heard such a thing? Your whole life you'd been taught that God was other, distant, far off...maybe so far off you couldn't even pray to Him on your own. And suddenly here's Jesus saying God is Father, and you can, no indeed, should not only think of Him thusly, but are to address Him so when you pray to Him. Talk about swaying into a faint!
Think of how radical this was to them, then think of how we pray that prayer together in our churches. Rote, droning, without any real thought of what we're praying. Those words, those amazing, unbelievable words have become so familiar we've begun to take them for granted. They're like so many other words in our lives, like when we say, "I love you," too easily. Or maybe, "I'm sorry." We say them out of habit rather than from a deep conviction that they come out of our gut, and have changed our lives. Remember the first time you said 'I love you' to someone? Or when you were really in the wrong and had to go out of your way to ask forgiveness? How it took something from you to say it? These words, these beautiful, life-changing, world-changing words of the Lord's prayer should take something from you as well. They're that important. Every one of them. His Holy Name, His Kingdom, His will, His bread, His forgiveness, His...everything.
Every time I hear the Lord's prayer, I try to make it new, try to let it speak to God as if I'd never said the words before. God, be my Father. God, make your name Hallowed in my life and sphere of influence. May your Kingdom come through me, and may your will be done on earth exactly as it's done in heaven--that is, instantly, with joy. Give me only what you know I need and not what I think I need--that is Your daily bread--physically, mentally and spiritually. Forgive me for whatever I've done against You, as I'm busy forgiving those who have hurt me. And keep a hedge around me (and mine). Watch us, protect us, lead us."
See, I think it's about keeping it real so we really, really know and mean what we say. And know WHO we're saying it to. Our Father, that's who!