Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lord, Teach us to pray. Proper 12 C

 Today’s Gospel finds Jesus as he was wont to do, off early in the morning to pray.  And the disciples ask him to teach them to pray.  In the Lucan form the formula for the Lord’s Prayer is a bit different from other gospels:

When you pray, 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.”

We have come to repeat this prayer as it was translated in the 17th century when the King James Version was published even though we have a modern translation in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).  But is this the way we pray? Really? Many of us
come from a catholic tradition where just the repetition of this prayer was considered the way to connect with the Holy.  And if used as a centering prayer, it is.  But most of us know to speak from our hearts about our needs.  But I believe that these words of prayer give us a system or pattern to follow in our prayer but not necessarily the exact words we need to use.

Prayer is a conversation with God.  Often times we come to prayer as a last recourse and we babble our needs to God.  Often the ‘results’ are not what we want and we tend to blame God or ourselves for not having enough faith.  Prayer is not having the right words—but precisely NOT having the words and being willing to sit wordless before the greatness of God.
When I entered the convent, I knew how to repeat many words to glorify God.  But what I had to do was learn how to pray from the heart. That did not mean that I had been insincere.  But I didn’t know how to listen to God.  Ultimately the conversation with the Holy is one that has no words—it is a matter of the heart but one must prepare one’s self for wordlessness with words.  Like much of our relationship with God there are no words that contain the love that God has for us or we have for God.  True contemplation goes beyond words.  Contemplation is the heart entwined in the Presence.  But often we humans have to have prepared ourselves with words to get to that wondrous place.  And that is what Jesus taught his disciples.
Basically he taught them to

·        Father, hallowed be your name. Acknowledge the greatness of the Holy One by placing one’s heart and
mind before God prepared for great intimacy.  One of the unique appellations that Jesus had for God was ‘Father’.  He understood how close he was to the God of Israel, not merely because he was the Son of God.  The Holy One was not just one of the many gods of the Middle East, but the ‘Our Father’ or ‘Our Mother’ or ‘Our Auntie’ owns  the familial connection that God has with all humanity.
  Your kingdom come.  This is not merely a plea for heaven.  This is a remarkably subversive plea for a righting of the injustices of the Roman Empire.  It is a calling for a different kind of world in which peace reigned and people respected the needs of others.  To pray for the kingdom to come was calling for a completely different way of living in today’s world.  It was a call for integrity and honesty, a plea for graciousness and compassion.

·       Give us each day our daily bread.  This is more than just asking that we be nourished.  It is a recognition that all that we have is God’s and that we exist simply because we are loved. 
Anything that we have is only at the benefice of the Holy One.  This means that our lives are to be lived in gratitude and thanksgiving.  The word for thanksgiving in Greek is eucharistia.  This does not mean that we need to be daily communicants at church.  But it does mean that all nourishment is united with the bread of the Altar.  The Starbucks gathering is as much a thanksgiving as is Holy Communion. 


    And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted
to us.  I like this translation because it does recognize that the word for sin in Hebrew —a word that comes from the world of archery meaning “missing the mark”.   Note that we ask forgiveness for ourselves as we have already forgiven others.  God’s forgiveness is not dependent on what we do.  But there is an understanding that our capacity to receive forgiveness is often limited by our own ability to forgive.
·       . And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   It is interesting that
the KJV includes the phrase “and deliver us from evil.”  But in the NRSV that phrase is not found.  It is one of those places where there may have been a difference in the copyist’s manuscript or it may have been added by copyist error sometime in history.  It doesn’t matter really.  Jesus does not demand exact words from his disciples.  This was a plea not to be tempted beyond one’s ability to resist.

The  Lord’s Prayer teaches a process that the soul can go through as one approaches that contemplative place of union.  All people who endeavor to pray in the unitive way—of being
at one with all that is Holy, needs to acknowledge the holiness of God, ask to be freed from thinking in the formulas of the majority opinion, to open one’s heart to the gratitude for all that we have received, to stand in the humility of the forgiven while offering forgiveness to all and stand in the need of the protection of holiness.  This is the process of stepping into prayer.  It is the preparation.

When we have allowed ourselves the kind of preparation for prayer—the nakedness before the Holy One then prayer is no longer OUR work but it is God working in us.  Personally, this kind of unity with the Holy One can only be done in silence.  I say that because I believe that perhaps others come to this kind of unity with God in other ways.  But I have not personally experienced it. 

As someone who is an extreme extrovert, this kind of silence is difficult, but it is possible.   Forty years ago I made a 30-day Ignatian retreat.  I became comfortable with the silence that I still hunger for today.  It is when I am quiet that I know how God can enter all the nooks and crannies of my person and shine the light on the areas I would rather not see but also shine the light on all the goodness that I seldom acknowledge in myself.  It brings me into a balance that denotes holiness for me—that Hebrew understanding of tsedach—righteousness.  It also means saved or justified. 

So how do we understand the rest of this passage that if we ask it will be given?  It is at this verse that many leave the faith of God when they don’t get what they ask.  When we have had a unitive experience of God, we know that prayer changes us, not God.  Prayer is not begging from God but standing in the immensity of God’s heart and trusting that all that is--is holy.  What we do when we pray unitively is recognize that as Julian of Norwich would say:  “All will be well.”  All that we need, all that we have, all that is necessary is there if we but are willing to listen as well as speak in our hearts.  God’s voice speaks in our hearts to tell us how to meet the difficulties and the sublime moments of our lives.  And we are equipped with all that we need to address the issues we bring to God.  Prayer changes us.  Whatever we need will be provided.  But we find that little is really needed.  If miracles are needed, then the miracles happen.  If the energy to do work for God is needed, it is given.  We are not looking to hit the lottery in our prayer—we are looking to be united with God.  And it changes our perspective.

I do not believe that whatever happens is God’s will.  I feel that the union of God and humanity in the Incarnation is by far more profound.  I believe that we are called to keep before the world the subversive message of Jesus that we do not have to be about falling into the sin of getting ahead, the ignoring of our neighbor, the exclusion of certain people because they do not conform to our norm, that 'just war' is obscene, and God's incredible call to peace is based in honesty not in subjugation.  This kind of unitive prayer has been found in most religions of the world.  It is the way to know the Holy.  And once we know this, we know without a doubt what is righteous and what we are to do.

Learning to pray is not easy.  It requires an open heart and a willingness to look at ourselves in humility and wonder.  And sometimes it takes years of openness to just experience that moment of union that is often only seen in hindsight.  But once experienced, trust is part and parcel of one’s faith life.  It becomes like our breath.  The balance is there.

Does this answer all our questions about this passage?  No.  This is a passage we take to prayer with us all the time.  It is woven into the prayer rugs of our lives.  Prayer is not an answer.  It is a way of living collected and in peace.

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