April 19, 2019

Sunday: Daring to Pray the Our Father (1)

Daring to Pray the Our Father (1)

[T]he Our Father is person-specific. It identifies and strengthens the central Christian truth about the person in relationship to God and creation. This truth is always present. Although the prayer is not detailed and fine-tuned toward particular situations, it influences how we think, will, feel, and act in whatever situations we are in.

• John Shea

• • •

In the Roman and Eastern liturgies, those who pray the Lord’s Prayer preface it by acknowledging, “We dare to say…” This is an expression of humility, recognizing that, apart from God’s grace to us in Christ, giving us new life and making us God’s children, we would not be able to pray like this.

In his book To Dare the Our Father: A Transformative Spiritual Practice, John Shea reminds us of another reason why making this prayer a vital part of our lives is a daunting and daring thing.

The traditional invitation to the Our Father—“We dare to say”—is correct. This prayer is a series of spiritual and social imperatives. To take it on is to be initiated into a vocation that, even as it remains a mystery, demands concrete changes in consciousness and behavior. I have been praying this prayer most of my life, and it is something I continually learn to do. Although I struggle with it in innumerable ways and do not completely live up to it, I have come to accept its dare as a life companion.

John Shea gives examples of how this prayer has been a life companion to him. He recounts the daily practice of praying it with his wife before they fall asleep at night. He recalls episodes of loss when he and his family gathered at the bedsides of deceased loved ones and prayed the Our Father together. He discusses his experience of it with his sisters and brothers in the liturgy of the gathered church, his individual use of the prayer in his own private devotion, and how those practices complement each other. Shea describes how he began to study the prayer more deeply and meditated upon its mystical aspects. Then he describes how its social and practical aspects began to pressure him to consider its message about his daily living. He was, in his words, “following a thread through the labyrinth” of this prayer Jesus gave us.

He gradually came to understand and embrace the fact that praying the Lord’s Prayer can be a transformative spiritual practice.

In short, praying the Our Father became the way I consciously committed myself to life itself. My days were occupied with within-life dreams that were more or less realized and within-life strategies that were more or less effective. As I scrambled to get what I wanted, I brought this prayer about life itself with me. And surprisingly it had a lot to say about my dreams and strategies. It worked for me the way mountains work in spiritual literature. When we are on the mountain, we gain perspective. We see more, and we see it all interconnected. When we return to ground level, we try to act from the perspective that we had on the mountain. Many of the times I prayed the Our Father, it took me out of myself (mountain) and then returned me to myself (ground). The trip was well worth it. It is the backstory of this book.

Comments

  1. The whole concept of a personal “Abba” that Jesus introduced was different than what the patriarchs knew. I think true ‘friendship’ is what God is moving to in our day, which is different as well, as the human race moves at a snail’s pace from child to friend, just as we do with our own parents. They are still parents and God is still Father but the relating changes. The plain patterns of natural life are so often corollaries or images to guide us in the spirit.

  2. I’m just clicking on to iMonk after a snowy day. Surprised that there’s only one comment on a topic like the Lord’s Prayer.

    Lately I’ve been going to the Congregational church that I grew up in, and we recite the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. But for more than 25 years previous my family has been going to a baptist church (ABC) and we rarely recite it there. In fact, about a year ago I asked my wife how many times she thought we had recited it at First Baptist, and she guessed three (3) times. I said no, that was impossible; my guess was six times. And we had been weekly attendees, probably 45 times per year. Even if my figure is closer, that’s 45 Sundays per year X 25 years = 1125 Sundays divided by 6 = once every 3 1/2 years. And in hindsight, I think my wife’s figure may be more accurate.

    My question: is this a baptist thing? Is reciting the Lord’s Prayer akin to idolatry, because some have likened it to “vain repetition” or, worse, something the Roman Catholics do?

    In recent years First Baptist has become intent on doing things “biblical,” yet this has been overlooked. I can’t think of anything more biblical, or in the form of a commandment, than “This, then, is how you should pray.”

    Is First Baptist unique?

    • No, it is not unique. And the “vain repetition” argument is one I’ve heard frequently cited over the years. Funny thing is, the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns specifically about vain repetitions in its section on the Lord’s Prayer, and sees no contradiction between habitual recital of the prayer and what it warns against.

      I don’t either.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Why would anyone consider a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, regardless of how many times it was prayed, to be vain, as in useless, pointless, or worthless?

        • It’s not the prayer itself that is considered vain. In the context of Matthew, the prayer is given as a way to pray in contrast to pagan ways of praying, which involve “vain repetition.” Some say this means that Jesus cannot have given the prayer to be repeated in rote fashion.

          • The Lord’s Prayer is the picture of brevity in comparison with the long prayers repeated endlessly by the pagan clergy of the time. I think Jesus wasn’t prohibiting repetition, but endorsing simplicity and simple trust in wording and attitude, as opposed to the kind of praying that places emphasis on loquacious kissing-up to a god who wants endless flattery and flowery words to fill his/her ears.

        • Dana Ames says:

          My experience has been that Baptist and other non-Sacramental churches eschew praying the Lord’s prayer regularly because it’s 1) not “from the heart” since it is a “formula” and written down, to boot; and 2) that Catholics believe that if one prays the prayer one “earns” something from God (reference indulgences), and that’s what makes it “vain” or purposeless, because, of course, we can’t earn God’s favor.

          Dana

  3. Clay Crouch says:

    In the Episcopal Church the Lord’s prayer is enjoined with these words just prior to the priest breaking the consecrated bread: And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say…

    In our diocese, The Eucharist is celebrated every Sunday.

    • Patriciamc says:

      Same in my Anglican church. In the non-denom I left last summer, they didn’t do the Lords Prayer or recite any creed. Maybe not entertaining enough.

  4. I was taught the “Our Father” sometime in my first five years of life by the older girl next door who used to baby sit me. Her mother was a devout Roman Catholic, her father not. My own family were very nominal Roman Catholics, I would say cultural Catholics who resorted to the services of the Church for baptisms, first communions, marriages, funerals, and occasionally a Christmas or Easter festival Mass. But part of being cultural Catholic is having your kids undergo all the religious education, and having them undertake all the rites of passage required to continue in membership of the Church, so that they can in turn avail themselves of its services when needed; so, I underwent and undertook that education and those rites. But it was not in CCD or any other formal religious education that the “Our Father”, our Lord’s Prayer, was imprinted on my soul and memory forever; it was in the playful instruction of my baby sitter Susan. For that reason alone, I would say that she was my best and most effective religious instructor. God be with you, Susan, wherever you are.