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A Meditation on the Lord's Prayer

Hilary Hopkins and Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Aug 23

Rev. Daniel A. Smith’s Reflection
Texts: Luke 11:1-4

“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father,* hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.*
3 Give us each day our daily bread.*
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’*”

Lord, teach us to pray!   Throughout the centuries, Christians of every stripe have drawn inspiration from the passage I just shared. Despite different languages and translations, we have indeed prayed the prayer that Jesus taught us with enduring and even pious persistence.  According to the gospels, it's the only prayer Jesus ever taught.  

As Biblical scholar John Dominica Crossan has noted, it’s not only Christianity’s greatest prayer but it’s also its “strangest prayer,” especially upon consideration of what it doesn’t say.  It’s prayed by all Christians but makes no mention of Christ. It’s prayed in all churches but makes no mention of church. It’s called the Lord’s Prayer but there’s no mention of Lord.  It’s prayed by fundamentalists but there’s no mention of the bible or its inerrancy. It’s prayed by evangelicals but there’s no mention of evangelism. It’s prayed by Pentecostals but there’s no mention of the Spirit. Its prayed by Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Catholics but makes no mention of congregation, bishop, or pope!  You could say, “Of course it doesn’t mention any of those things, because it's a Jewish prayer prayed by a Jewish Jesus,” but still- there’s no mention of Torah, or Temple, or ritual purity or covenant.  As Crossan says:  "What if the Lord’s Prayer is neither a Jewish prayer for Jews nor yet a Christian prayer for Christians?  What if it is [instead] a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world?  What if it is [instead] a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?"

What if indeed.  A radical manifesto?  A hymn of hope?  You mean our Lord’s Prayer, that thing we say every week, some of us so often and in such a familiar cadence that the words may barely register?  Yes, that Lord’s Prayer.  Yet the more we can hear and say this prayer with intention, the more awake we can become to its radical and revolutionary strangeness and its call to hope and compassion.  

I’ve been wanting to a lead an Adult Ed series on this prayer for a while, and though now is not the time, consider this a teaser.  In just a few short lines, Jesus packs in a world of meaning that addresses nothing less than God’s will for us, our responsibilities to one another, our need for a moral and economic vision of distributive justice (aka, daily bread), our need to receive and share forgiveness, and a vision for community where God’s justice and love reigns over all earthly kingdoms.  No wonder it’s been such a touchstone of our tradition and no wonder so many have found in this prayer such a rich and sometimes daily spiritual practice.  

We’ve heard Dave McCann speak in this sanctuary about his love of the Lord’s Prayer and his refreshing practice of reciting it as he takes his morning shower.   Others have put it to song.  Still others may pray it alone or together, often at the most profound moments: at the birth of a child, or a wedding, or at bedsides, or even gravesides.  Despite differences in language or translations, in how it begins or how it ends, the Lord’s Prayer has been among the most common and enduring touchstones of spiritual expression in our tradition.  And it seems it’s not just the theology the words represent, powerful as it is, but the very experience of saying it, of sharing it, of remembering it and repeating it.  For those who find a deep well of connection to the spirit in this prayer, my guess is they have somehow endeavored to make it their own, spending time in wonder, turning over each word and phrase, until they arrive at meaning that has an even deeper resonance in their hearts.  I’ve already decided that when the time comes for me to lead those sessions, I’m going to have an exercise in which I invite people to re-cite and re-write the Lord’s Prayer in language that is most meaningful to them.  And not only in terms of not addressing God as father, which can seem patriarchal to some and triggering for others- especially for those who have had painful relationships with their own fathers- but a new translation of the whole thing. It could be a way of digesting it and taking it in and considering what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray.   After all, when the disciples ask him to teach them to pray in Matthew’s gospel, he says: when you pray, pray in this way!  As in, “Try something like this!” not “These are the only words for all time!”  

At this point, I’d like to invite up someone who has already attempted such an exercise, and to stunning effect.  In fact, I credit her for that workshop idea of translating the prayer and making it your own. May Hilary's words be a prompt for us all to hear anew that prayer that Jesus taught and to carry it with us always.

Hilary Hopkins’ Reflection

Good morning, dear and excellent people. My name is Hilary Hopkins. I have been coming here now for about two and a half years. Before I came, I had attended services in another denomination for over sixty-five years, and had actually never been to a regular service at any church other than that one—except for weddings and funerals and so on. But I’d become unhappy in that church and decided to try another.

When I came here, that first Sunday, someone gave me a bulletin and I found a spot in my usual place in the old church, right in the front, and looked at the bulletin. Well, I was happy to see that it looked pretty familiar and I figured, Oh good, I can do this, I’ll know what to do.

Then we got to the Lord’s Prayer, and there was that electrifying invitation: “Please pray this prayer in words most meaningful to your heart.” Well, that was it. I was astonished, and thrilled. And I knew I was in the right place.

So over a time of about a year and a half, I began to reframe the Lord’s Prayer in words that are most meaningful to me. Eventually I came to a meditation which is indeed meaningful to me, and which has proven to be directive—that is, which has helped me to see my actions more clearly and to direct me in new, and, I hope, better, ways of behavior.

At one point I rather diffidently shared my meditation with Dan, and he very generously suggested that I could share it with you. So here I am.

I would like to invite you to meditate with me, taking our time in the many and long silences to contemplate whatever arises in our thoughts and imaginations.

Before we begin, though, I would like to define or at least elucidate four words in the text, so that we are all on the same page, so to speak.

The very first word, ineffable, means “not capable of description; undescribable”.

Universe means “one turn around,” that is, encompassing everything that is.

Numinous comes from the word numen, meaning creative power or spirit.

And Holy, which comes from a root word that means “whole, complete, uninjured”.
Let us now invite, acknowledge, and accept the presence of the Holy within and among us.

Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer

Ineffable, unameable grandeur of the Universe, numinous and sacred, infusing every thing and every being with holiness, goodness, and perfection:

Today we hope for all that we truly need [compassion, recognition and respect, love, adequate food, clean water, shelter, safety].

We hope to be forgiven for the wrongs we do [murder, cruelty, hatred, scorn, indifference, deception, destruction], in the same way that we try to forgive with compassion the wrongs done to us [consider with compassion those who have hurt us].

We hope not to be brought to the test, but if we are tested we hope to prevail, and if we cannot prevail we hope to endure.

We hope to be preserved against evil.

For the Universe, and all that has ever been a part of it [consider this],
is now a part of it [consider this],
and which will be a part of it [imagine this],
is radiant and sacred, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, always and forever.

So be it, truly.

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