Questioning the prayer
By Nathan Day Wilson
How many times have you said The Lord’s Prayer? A few hundred times? Many thousands? Never at all?
The prayer is a work of beauty, especially Matthew’s version with its pleasant cadences and well balanced couplets. Try reading this aloud so you can feel the pulse: “Our father in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. They will be done.”
Did you feel it? Whether it means anything to your faith or not, you have to admit there’s wonderful rhythm to the prayer, smooth and melodic.
For me, the prayer evokes many memories. I’ve prayed it with close friends and with complete strangers. Those words have celebrated new lives and consoled recent deaths. In rooms where all spoke the same language, and in rooms where languages were as numerous as people, I’ve claimed and clamored this prayer that Jesus taught his followers.
Yet for a prayer so beautiful, so evocative and so central to whom and whose I am, rarely have I thought about what each phrase in the prayer means or why Jesus decided to include it. So I asked myself some questions.
For example, I asked myself, “Self, why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? After all, prayer was a pillar of Jewish piety. Public prayer, spoken aloud in the morning, afternoon and evening was common.”Then I thought, “Hmmm, Self, that is a good question.”
Then I considered rewarding my good question with some mint chocolate chip ice cream, but decided I should ask more questions instead.
What do you think? Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Or what’s your answer to these questions: Why did Jesus organize the prayer the way he did? After the beginning invocation, is there anything significant about the order of his six requests? How was the prayer radical at the time when Jesus taught it?
And the big one: Does this prayer have relevance for you; or, do you just say the prayer now because that’s what others have always done?
Not to be rude, but if you’re not going to speak up with some answers, I’m going to ask one more question: Of all the images or ways that Jesus could have addressed God at the beginning of the prayer, why did he start by saying “Our Father?”
After all, Jesus could have said something like, “Holy One who loves us more than there is water in the deepest sea.” It would have been true, and poetic if I may say so. God does love us, and all creation, more than there is water in the deepest sea — or even all the seas combined.
Or Jesus could have addressed God as “Ground of all our existence.” Or even, “One whose strength surpasses the strongest boulder.” Both are true statements; both are apt descriptions.
But Jesus did not start the prayer with any of those. Instead, he started with the Aramaic word, “Abba.” Why?
Those are the sorts of questions I’ve been asking myself. The good and exciting news for me is that this weekend I’ll be sharing some answers to the questions. The congregation I get to serve, First Christian Church, is beginning a worship series about The Lord’s Prayer this Sunday at 10 a.m.
One of the most requested worship topics, I think and pray it’ll be a good series. I guess I’m not the only one interested in deeply experiencing this much loved prayer.