Sunday, July 28, 2013

Father, Hallowed Be Your Name

One of the first prayers most Christian children learn is what is called, "The Lord's Prayer."  And it doesn't matter who you are, Catholic or Protestant, these words that so often begin with, "Our Father who art in Heaven..." are among the most ingrained that you don't need a book or piece of paper to prompt you into the familiar rhythmic prayer.

Today's gospel lesson, we get from Luke where this prayer originated.  Jesus is busy praying, and the disciples are eager to learn, "How Do You Do That Thing That You Do."  Jesus gives his devoted followers a lesson in the basics, telling them that when they pray they should say:

Father, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come. 

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, 

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

And do not bring us to the time of trial. 

This is the stripped down version of the prayer.  Matthew's Gospel brings in the familiar phrase, "on earth as it is in heaven," and asks not just to be saved from the time of trial but to be delivered "from the Evil One."   But the very basic structure of the prayer is a simple one that follows Jesus' great commandment to all of us: "Love God and Love Each Other."   The Church institutionalized this prayer, and made it into the staple of Christian prayer practice.  That's not a bad thing, necessarily.  It is probably the simplest way to give the people one, basic, all-around good set of words to work with when they wonder, "How am I suppose to pray?"  The only problem I see is that we've come to rely on words, these words, said in this exact way, to the point where... as I said... you don't even need to get prompted to know to fall into its rhythm.  And at what point do we, being so familiar with this prayer, forget what it is that's being said?

In "Son of Man," Andrew Harvery, a modern mystic, includes a section on prayer and various prayer practices.  One of the ones that interested me was to set aside roughly 30-minutes where you meditate, slowly and intentionally, on the words of "The Lord's Prayer."  So slowly, in fact, that just the phrase, "Our Father..." requires some time to consider.  As Harvey notes, this isn't just "a" Father, or "my" Father: it is the inclusive word of "Our" meaning the entire human creation... be they friend or foe...who all have the same Father.  Luke's version of this prayer doesn't include a possessive pronoun.  He simply starts, "Father."  And then, to establish the respect and the right regard in this relationship, Jesus says, "hallowed be your name."   The way this prayer begins is the start of Psalm 103, "Bless The Lord all my soul and all that is within me bless His holy name."  Jesus' prayer begins with establishing what to me seems like an arrow pointing upward, setting God as the pinnacle.   Place God as the head, God as the first, God as the ultimate of all desire.  When we do this, as Jesus would later note in his teaching to the disciples, when we ask, there will be an answer.  It may not be exactly the answer we want;  it will be the answer we need.

This past week, there was yet another report out of Africa about anti-gay ugliness.  The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, at a political rally suggested that gays should be beheaded because they are unable to reproduce in "the natural way."  It was a horrific story, and such words, spoken by anyone in a position of power, is exactly the kind of cover that the evil that resides in the heart of a homophobe needs to justify taking action to beat and kill LGBT Africans.  As I sat in front of the computer looking at this story, I was incensed and I was sad.  I had posted the story to my Facebook wall, and denounced Mugabe, again, for his virulent hatred of my kind.  Then one of my friends made a comment about how it is difficult to pray for a man like Mugabe.  I agree; it is difficult to pray for someone who hates me so much and wants me dead.  And yet, this is the very person who needs prayer the most.  Thankfully, like the Lord's Prayer, the Episcopal Church has provided us with words of prayer in this situation.  It can be found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer on page 816, and it is a prayer that I regularly use... or paraphrase...

O God, the Father of us all whose Son commanded us to love our enemies; Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; Deliver them and us from cruelty, hatred and revenge; and in your good time help us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

When I pray these words, I know that I cannot expect there to be a change in the other person, the perceived enemy.  But when I pray these words, I know that my head and my heart are shifting away from "cruelty, hatred and revenge."   And, just like in the Lord's Prayer, the direction of the prayer is upward, to God, to "ask and it will be received," to "knock and the door will be opened."  In making this prayer, I'm not looking for anything more than for God to hear me in my distress and deliver me from that place of wanting to seek revenge.  And it works.  I have privately repeated this prayer in moments of intense, heated exchanges during public debates, and I have made it part of my daily office practice.  It helps to keep me grounded in the Source of Love that runs wild all around us all the time.  It has helped me be heard in places where I could have easily been ignored.

Through prayer, and making supplications to God, what we really are doing is realigning our selves to remain in touch with God, so that we may become more open to others... here on earth, as it is in heaven.  When we do that, and we encounter the world in this state of openess to Love, we have the potential to shift a dialogue or remove the stumbling block from getting something done for the common good.  Ask. Search. Knock. 

No comments: