The prayer that Jesus taught has different meanings for each of us. These are some of mine:
“God, Mother and Father of us all…”
Theology rather than ideology prompts me to begin “the Lord’s Prayer” in this way. My own mother and father loved me in different ways, and I loved them in different ways, and so addressing this prayer to both Mother and Father God feels more complete.
I don’t view mother/father and male/female as binary, but rather as ends of a spectrum, so it’s not an either/or, but rather, a both/and. Saying “mother” and “father” is more personal for me than “parent” or a general term for God. And adding “of us all” replaces “our” in the “our Father.” This prayer reminds me that prayer is a collective, communal practice, and that we are ALL children of God.
“Who art in heaven…”
Heaven is both a destination and a present reality. Heaven is where human will and God’s will coincide. To “go to” heaven is to follow your bliss, in the words of Joseph Campbell, a place where your greatest joy meets the world’s deep need, in the words of Frederick Buechner. And yet it also appears to us in those “thin places” of Celtic Christian spirituality in which heaven can be glimpsed on earth: in beauty, in kindness, in love, and so on. This is where and when and how we experience the awesome essence of God.
“Thy kingdom come…”
“Thy” and “thee” and “thou” were all familiar forms of address in English from 1450 to 1650, and the KJV was translated in 1611, though the translators may not have followed common usage. If they did, though it sounds formal to us, these familiar terms are in line with Jesus beginning the prayer with the Aramaic “Abba,” addressing God as family: “our Father.” It reminds us of our intimacy with God.
“Kingdom” welcomes God’s reign, and rather than associate it with patriarchy, I think of “magic kingdoms” of fairy tales, myths, and legends, that may be ruled by either a king or a queen. In other contexts, I substitute “commonwealth,” because ultimately God’s kingdom is a common wealth which we all share, spiritually and materially. And when I say “all” I don’t mean only Christians or human beings. I pray for the kingdom to “come” because I believe it is divinity that gives it birth, within or among us.
“Thy will be done…”
I believe our greatest bliss is to be found in our assent to this phrase. By “our bliss” I mean not just our personal joy but our collective joy as human beings, as creatures, as creation. My central purpose in saying this prayer daily is to align myself with God’s Spirit and her purposes in the universe: abundant life, creativity, compassion, wisdom, knowledge, reflection, service, to name a few. By such measures, doing God’s will is not tedious duty but awakening pleasure.
“In/on earth as it is in heaven…”
When I pray “your will be done in earth,” I am praying that God’s will may be manifest in my own body—to paraphrase Teresa of Avila, on earth God’s body is our own, my hands, your hands, my feet, your feet are God’s hands and feet.
When I pray “your will be done on earth,” I am praying that God’s will for peace and justice and compassion be manifest in our international relations and governmental actions, in our political discourse and interfaith dialogue, in our houses of worship and in our neighborhoods. Remember, I believe that heaven is where human will coincides with God’s will.
“Give us this day our daily bread…”
This seems a bold request, a kind of “socialist” demand, but where else does our daily bread come from if not from what God has given us? In praying this, I acknowledge that the many ways I am fed—through food, through companions, through wisdom, and more—all come from a divine source.
I also note the allusion to the manna the Hebrews were fed in the wilderness, and how they were only to collect a day’s ration, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they were to collect enough for the next day as well. If they took more than their day’s quota, whether out of anxiety or greed, it would grow wormy. This challenges us to limit our own consumption to what we really need.
“Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us…”
Given the day and what feels most appropriate, I pray one of these pairings.
“Debts/debtors” reminds me that I owe everything to God, and so I should let go of what I think people “owe” me. “Trespasses/those who trespass” makes me think of the ways I trespass not only on God’s territory but on others’ space. “Sins/sin against us” suggests to me my/our most grievous errors.
God’s forgiveness anticipates my own choice to forgive. I believe if I truly know God’s grace, I will become more gracious, and that as I become more gracious, I will truly know God’s grace.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
In his book The Inner Voice of Love, Henri Nouwen wrote to himself, “The more deeply you live your spiritual life, the easier it will be to discern the difference between living with God and living without God, and the easier it will be to move away from the places where God is no longer with you” (p 23).
Of course, God is everywhere, but the point of this is that the venues in which I may experience God most clearly, dearly, and nearly (to paraphrase Godspell’s “Day by Day”)
are the places that diminish my desire to yield to temptation to be less than I am created and called to be, or surrender to evil, either my own or the world’s.
“For thine is the kingdom…”
Church tradition rather than Jesus has added these remaining phrases of the Lord’s Prayer (an echo of 1 Chronicles 29:10-13), but I like this final threefold, uplifting “letting go.” The commonwealth is God’s, not ours. We may manifest it, be its citizens, and serve as its instruments of peace, justice, and compassion—but we and it belongs to God.
“…and the power…”
I believe we incorrectly equate power with control. God’s power is love, that which persuades, leads, instructs, invites, and inspires us also to love.
“…and the glory…”
For the Hebrews, this is the glory reflected so brightly on Moses’s face on Mt. Sinai that the people asked him to veil himself. Christians are called rather to unveil that glory, to witness that glory to one another and to all, so that we may “grow from one glory to another.” We may see this glory on a mountaintop, on a cross, in an empty tomb. We may see this glory in a loved one, in a baby, in galaxies billions of light years away. It lifts us up, raises our hopes, magnifies our possibilities.
God’s commonwealth, love, and glory give us a taste of the eternal. Our time may be short, but it is a part of God’s time from now on. So be it.
See a related post, “A Pragmatic Guide to Prayer.”
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