When You Pray
When I was in my first call, a little over thirty years ago, I regularly visited a woman in the nursing home I’ll call Leila. Lelia was in her late eighties and suffered from severe dementia. She did not know who she was, or where she was, or who this strange young man who came to visit her was. But, when we came to the Lord’s Prayer as we shared Holy Communion, her foggy eyes would clear and she would get every word right. Every word. Those familiar words woke something deep in her soul and drew her out. That part of her which connected her to the God who claimed her in baptism was still attached.
The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples some two thousand years ago has reverberated through the life of the Church and continues to instruct our souls to this day. It is more than just a rote prayer to be rambled off. If prayer is one of the primary ways we live out our relationship with God, the Lord’s Prayer helps define that relationship and how that relationship shapes our lives as God’s children.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Our Creator God IS holy. Transcendent. Beyond human comprehension. Unable to be captured fully in human language or art. Wholly other. And yet, the whole of scripture bears witness to the immanent, personal, compassionate and loving presence of God in the life of the world. We hallow God’s name – that is, we worship God – because of this undeserved and gracious gift of presence. We hallow God’s name out of a sense of awe, gratitude, wonder and humility that God would even recognize, let alone love, the little dust specks in the universe each of us are. Worship is not about being entertained. Worship is about pausing at least once a week to acknowledge and give thanks for this amazing truth.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Inhale. Feel your breath fill your lungs. Let it out slowly. That breath and every one you have taken before it and will take after it is pure gift. Spend a few minutes reflecting on the space you currently occupy. What do you see? Look at the details. What do you hear, feel, smell? Everything within the reach of your senses and beyond is a gift. Pure gift. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The whole world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Every time we pray for our daily bread we acknowledge this fact. We ask that God might help us see its truth. We are reminded that, as Christians, we have a responsibility to share our daily bread (which isn’t ours at all) with those around us – from our breath to our wealth.
Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Because of Christ, we know our sins are already forgiven. That’s what the cross and resurrection were about. The Passion Story teaches us that God’s love is stronger than hate, that God’s life is stronger than death and that there is nothing, NOTHING, in heaven or on earth that can separate us from God’s love. But that is more than a personal eternal insurance policy. When we pray this prayer we are committing ourselves to work for reconciliation. God’s forgiveness empowers our forgiveness. Our meager, sometimes successful and often failed attempts at forgiveness help us to understand the real depths of God’s forgiveness for us. Knowing that God forgives us gives us the courage to try forgiving again.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Trials come. Suffering comes. Brokenness is part and parcel of human existence in a broken world. Like Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken from him, we pray that we might be spared what we know is inevitable. Like Jesus got up from prayer and went to the cross, so too we pray we might be given the strength we need to face what we must. Jesus promises to be with us to the end of the age. God promises to go with us through the times of trial, yes, even through death itself.
Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer acknowledges God’s steadfast love, inexhaustible grace, and how it can and does shape who we are and how we live even when, like Leila, it’s the only thing we have left.
Thank-you for reading. Keep praying!