Praying

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 in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.

(Lk 11:3-4)

We are created to pray.  We are built to open ourselves to the God-Mystery who speaks to us, and to enter into an ever-deeper communication with that Mystery: to close off the noise of our lives, the chatter that fills our days, and to breathe: to enter into the silence of our hearts and to listen.  This is why solitude (as opposed to loneliness) is a good thing, and a quality of life to be cultivated. We need to trust silence.

We are also created to speak, to say forth what lies most deeply in our heart, what God is speaking and how we wish to respond with our entire being.  This is why we have poetry, and song, and scripture, and also why we have liturgy and spoken prayer. We need somehow to bring to expression the fruit of our encounter with the Mystery.

And so the people ask Jesus, teach us to do that: Teach us to pray with our hearts and to bring that to verbal expression at the same time.  Jesus’ response is the gift of what today we call the “Lord’s Prayer,” familiar to us as the “Our Father.”  This is an exquisite and profound expression of what was going on in Jesus’ heart, and that is why every word and phrase of it is to be treasured.  Luke’s version,  shorter than the version in Matthew, is probably the more authentic because the less embellished.  What we have in this form of the prayer are the fragments of memory passed down a couple of generations from the time Jesus spoke such words.  When people asked what did Jesus say about prayer, these words were what people remembered and passed down from parent to child, much as we may try to recall stories our parents told us. Some key phrases stick in our memories, while others fade.  These are the words that did not fade.

We can miss the power of these words.  For Jesus was not giving us a formula to repeat in a Rosary or even to recite at a Mass, although these are legitimate enough places for its use.  And many of us have the comfort of knowing these words by heart, and recalling them in times of stress.  Still, when we do utter these words in the liturgy it can seem jarring as we rattle them off, almost unthinkingly at times, or even shouting them forth.  Through these by now well-worn words, Jesus seems to have been teaching that prayer rests in the heart, and he was revealing his heart in the fragments he offered. When we see it this way, the Lord’s Prayer might cause us to stop in our tracks and to succumb to a humble silence.  This is a scripture passage worth taking aside, out of all liturgical or devotional contexts, to use as a pattern for our own meditation and contemplation, phrase by phrase, over time.  Jesus was saying: Pray in the way that I do, from the heart, and bring all that to simple expression, not in public, but in the privacy of your room, or, as Jesus did, in a faraway place.

The key to grasping what we are given in this prayer, these fragmentary words, is that God is lovingly provident, and that we can place our entire lives, all that we are, into the ambit of God’s love—even our stubborn inability to forgive.  All is God’s, and all that we are, have been, or hope to be, belongs to God.

3 thoughts on “Praying”

  1. I continue to be struck by the command to be like God in this profligate providence. The call to forgive each others’ debts — to build a community within which the strains of economic uncertainty and subsistence are moderated by generosity to one another — is a message that has great, practical (and uncomfortable) relevance for our own time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Paul. Comforting to be reminded that loneliness is one thing and solitude is quite another. Yes: Praying familiar prayers in a contemplative manner invites us to linger a bit, allowing the words to rest deeply. Powerful.

    Like

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