Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Midweek Musing: Praying as Jesus taught us

This Sunday, I led worship and preached at Bainsford Church, Falkirk. It was a joy to be invited back after leading worship there last year, and telling stories with the Guild earlier this year. 


The story was the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, and along with a number of congregations around the world, I used the new words I had crafted for Pray the Story in worship. They formed the call to worship and were repeated in the reflection - which I share with you now as the musing for the week, pondering the prayer that Jesus taught us.



What is prayer?


We have this prayer that Jesus taught us, but even then, there is no consensus with the different versions in Luke and Matthew, and the various versions we pray in English. I was surprised that even the old or traditional version prayed in Church of Scotland congregations is different to the old traditional version we prayed when I was growing up in Australia.

But I wonder, are the words that Jesus taught us about praying those specific words? Or does the prayer that Jesus taught us show us how to pray, more than what to pray?


Let us look at the words that have been handed down through the generations, and see how they might, in fact, point to a way of praying, an attitude, a song that once we know it we can’t help but sing.


‘Father’ – now, I could spend hours debating the usefulness or otherwise of ‘Father’ as a name for God, but actually, I think God is big enough to answer the call of each heart using what name best expresses that call. ‘Father’ we inherit from so many generations, and originally from a culture that understood the particular role and responsibilities of the fathers of families and households, and found that understanding God through that frame of reference was helpful.

But there are many other names we might use to call from our heart towards the heart of God – Holy One, Lord, Mother, Wisdom, Spirit, Creator, Maker, Jesus, Divine, Sacred …


When God reveal’s God’s own name to Moses in the stories we receive, it is in Hebrew I AM. Is that a name? The Hebrew Yahweh actually sounds like breathing in and out – Yah – weh. And even then, this no-name statement of being is considered so holy and sacred that Jews will not voice it, though it is the very sound of breath itself. Whenever it occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures, a Jew will substitute Adonai, the Lord, instead.


Perhaps every name we use for God is some kind of substitute; perhaps human ears and voices would break to actually hear or speak the name of God. Perhaps God is, ultimately, un-nameable.


Even so: ‘Hallowed’ be your name.

Hallowed – sacred, holy. By saying ‘Hallowed be’, what we are really saying is, may it be so, may we understand and acknowledge the unknowable, unspeakable name of God to be sacred and holy, as it is.

So, then, prayer is a turning our gaze upon God, holy, sacred, in awe and reverence. Prayer is an entering God’s presence aware of our creatureliness and God as the Creator – singing our praise in gratitude to the One who gave us life.


Your kingdom come. Again, we could fuss about semantics and what is meant by ‘kingdom’, could we use a different, less masculine term … But we are not interested in this reflection in what we are to say, but how we are to pray.

Luke doesn’t have the lines we associate with this one, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Luke isn’t putting God in heaven, isn’t expressing a wish for earth to become like heaven. Perhaps there is less emphasis here on God far away and sinners on a fallen earth than was developed in the early church.

Your kingdom come. Kingdom – God’s realm, God’s dream, a way of being, God’s reconciling of creation with God. God’s Way, the way of Wisdom. We see Wisdom in the Old Testament to offer divine welcome, to dance at creation with joy, to feed, water, teach a way of living fully, healthily, reconciled to God and each other. How much does that sound like the Way Jesus lived?

Prayer is a yearning for the Way of Wisdom, God’s Way of Love. In yearning for this way to become more fully realised every day, we are praying our commitment to live that way of love and peace, which we see in Jesus. Your kingdom come isn’t to say – God we’d like this to happen, please could you do it for us. Prayer is, as we have seen already, entering right relationship, and we enter into that relationship by participating in love, radical, costly, full-bodied, love. By singing Wisdom’s song of welcome.


Give us each day our daily bread. If we are considering not what to say, but how to pray, this element of the way of prayer is explained in the later part of the portion we heard read. Ask, search, knock.

Prayer is asking, for prayer is depending on God. Prayer is recognizing that all life comes from God and is sustained by God. Prayer is gratitude for this gift of life. Again, prayer is about attitude; not an attitude of greed or neediness, saying, God I’m hungry put food on my plate. It is an expression of gratitude for all God does provide.

It’s also a pretty challenging commitment to justice if we are paying attention. Give us. We are praying for each other, that each of us would have enough to eat. And where does God draw the boundaries? God’s Way, Wisdom’s welcome. The boundaries are wide. They encompass all. So prayer is a commitment to seeking enough for each other, not only me or my own. We draw others into the song.


Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

These two lines go together. We are not praying an understanding that God’s forgiveness of us is dependent on our forgiveness of others. But rather, if we as humans do not forgive, how can we expect God to forgive? We could turn it around, that having received forgiveness, that grace and generosity overflows through us towards our neighbours. Again, we draw others into the song.

We do not receive grace for ourselves. We do not participate in this way of love for our own life-after-death guarantee. The Way for which we pray our yearning is a way of love, reconciling, healing, forgiving love – which we both receive and give.


Do not bring us into the time of trial.

If we are considering this prayer as an indication of how to pray, not what words to speak, this request is not about calling down defense resources of shields and tanks and weapons that will keep us from harm. I hear in these words a way of praying that is hopeful. How often have we heard stories of the strongest hope from those who are in the places of deepest trial. What is their hope? God is with them. Life is more than this current trouble. Love is longer lasting than this earthly life. Praying is a singing like the singing of the slaves in America, resilient, defiant, trusting, hope, from souls that will not be enslaved because they are bound to God.

The prayer Jesus taught us is not a set of words to recite by rote. It is a way of turning our gaze towards the Divine, of standing in our place of welcome within God’s love, of singing a song we cannot help but sing, and drawing others in by the very nature of God’s welcoming way of love. So we might use different words to pray the old prayer.


The prayer Jesus taught us – in new words


Divine Source of Love and Live,
Holy is your unspeakable name.

May your Way of Love resound through earth
heaven in our midst.

All we need to live and thrive
we receive from you, Creator;

forgive us when we turn away,
as we forgive each other.

Keep us on the path of Wisdom,
away from wicked tyranny;

Spirit ever breathe through us,
empower us with hope.

From you, through you and in you,
are all things, now and always;
to you be all honour and praise.

Amen. 

And as we sang the hymn, 'How can I keep from singing', the people received a music note with a reminder of one of the ways to pray that emerged from our reflection, to take away as a prompt for prayer in the days and weeks to come.