Wednesday, July 24, 2019

No One Should "Have to" Say the Lord's Prayer

A Nouwen retreatant fashioned this
crucifix from dried cactus at Ghost Ranch.

No one should “have to” say the Lord’s Prayer. Anymore than anyone should “have to” savor quality chocolate, bite into a freshly ripened peach, or make love.

I’ve been made aware that some folk associate the prayer Jesus taught us with all those “have to’s” of formal worship, an accessory to a spiritual straitjacket of liturgical conformity that was required wear in some Christian traditions. I guess my largely optional Baptist worship experience as a child and youth prompts me to see it as a choice rather than a requirement, on a par with the stiff reciting of the Apostles’ Creed or a self-abasing Prayer of Confession. (To be clear, though, in my better moments I try to value all liturgies and their parts as opportunities for spiritual expansion.)

But for me, the prayer Jesus taught is my favorite part of my morning prayer time. Sometimes I save it for last, like dessert. And sometimes I say it first, like a child unwilling to wait.

I write this to say I do not recite the prayer Jesus taught his disciples because God somehow “requires” it, but for selfish reasons that I can only hope become altruistic in the transformation the words may bring me.

It is a way of transcending my self, even as it connects me to my past and future selves. It connects me to Jesus, who first recommended it, and all those disciples and saints, sinners and saviors who followed, are following, and will follow in our spiritual tradition. It connects me to God—I believe, Jesus’ intent—without the “in Jesus’ name” sign-off to prayer we use as an imprimatur / notary stamp / access code / password to let God know our legitimacy as Christians.

The prayer reminds me of the permanent familial relationship we all have with God AND with each other. For me, it’s not simply a Christian prayer, but a Universalist prayer, even a Unitarian prayer for those who believe “the Lord our God is one.” When we pray “thy kingdom come” or the variation “thy kindom come” we are praying for the world a commonwealth in which everyone is a citizen, a beneficiary, and an heir—including those who do not subscribe to any faith or religious tradition. This is the grace of God at work that excludes NO ONE.

And it doesn’t ask of us any less than it asks of God: forgiveness. As synchronicity would have it, the day of writing this post I read Benedictine monk John Main’s words, “Perhaps the gift our violent and fear-filled world needs most is forgiveness…in an age so dissatisfied with its own shallowness—a dissatisfaction that produces so much confusion and violence.”

Finally, it lifts us up to God’s glory, the transformative power of God’s love, and the divine value of all that is.

Other posts on The Lord’s Prayer:

I will again be co-leading a 5-day contemplative retreat April 27-May 1, 2020 in Cullman, Alabama, through the Spiritual Formation Program of Columbia Theological Seminary. It is open to the public.

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1 comment:

  1. From Rev. Robert Steifel:

    Your reading of the Lords prayer is as usual spot on and very helpful. I would add that the heart of the prayer is the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. The transformational quality of the prayer depends upon this phrase. And of course it is at the heart of the gospel in any case.

    I dare say that the Ghost Ranch crucifix is really an image of the risen Christ with his arms raised in blessing. It is a not uncommon figure over the altar in some churches including the one I served for 11 years, Christ church, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is I think a needed transformation of the image of Christ the king. I think Christianity has indulged itself to much in brooding on the cross as well as awarding dictatorial authority. Jesus is brother, even mother according to Lady Julian. And, yes, the father is the parent who is also another possible expression of motherhood. The authority to bless and forgive is very different from the authority to rule and to direct.

    Robert further clarified:

    Of course the figure of the risen Christ is a reminder of the crucified Christ. My point is that it is an image of transformation, whereas the crucifix is an image of death even if we are to understand death as the earliest stage of transformation. Still, dying is directly and fearfully known and common to each and all of us, but transformation is an expectation within a promise.

    Thanks, Robert, for your wisdom and our longstanding friendship! Chris