Continuing my travel through the order of the mass, after the Eucharistic prayer comes another rich moment, “the Lord’s prayer”. I love this gorgeous and honest version from New Zealand. But I want to grapple myself with my own meditation with “the prayer Jesus taught us”. Travel my thoughts with me if you like.
I remember as a child, a reoccurring theme was how dangerous “the Lord’s prayer” was. Dangerous because it was so familiar, we could say it without really meditating on what it meant, simply as empty words and that would be sinful, negate the power of praying at all or even be blasphemous. Nevertheless that was a “given” prayer that was supposed to be superior to other prayers so we had to always say it- at church, at home, in the rosary, in our own prayers as a family or as individuals.
I remember much more recently at work, debating with some colleagues the merits or otherwise of insisting that children apologise when they have done something to someone. “Sorry is an empty word” one of my colleagues said, positively AGAINST children being taught to say it when harm has been done. In a way she was right of course, the “sorry” of our nation toward Indigenous people has not completely achieved the change of heart we need, and many scoff that it has done anything at all. Nevertheless when Prime Minister John Howard refused to give “them” even the satisfaction of an apology that was seen as hurtful, as an obstacle to the way forward.
Words may be empty but giving or with-holding them has some power after all.
Perhaps it is that words are always as empty as containers, and we infuse them with contexts- with our identities and actions and intentions. Perhaps also while at times familiarity of words can obscure meaning, at times words can make meaning, call a reality into being. “I have called you by your name you are mine” with words we make each other part of our family, a person recognised and nurtured.
Perhaps it is not even always sin when familiar words simply wash over us, when we are at peace and connected in with our faith family rather than overthinking. I worked so hard as a child to overthink prayer, to avoid the blasphemy of praying without deep intention but I think I have missed one of the points of prayer/love/intimacy. In prayer we do not strive to be correct, we simply orient toward the other that is God (and that is God’s beloved) and we simply BE in love. We “waste time” with God.
Jesus as the “Word of God” did not always seek to be understood. Who has ever understood the loaves and the fishes, but thousands went away satisfied. What exactly happened at Cana? There was no wine and then there was. Not all words can be grasped in a logical way, some slip through like poetry, like the quiet breathing of a loved one, like a sunset.
Then there is this bit of wisdom. That took my fancy when I was in my mid-twenties (yeah back last century), although even then I had some quarrels with parts of it, and ever since then now and then I have made up my own meditations that attempt to make my praying of this prayer meaningful and intentional, to try to identify and avoid potential hypocrisy in it.
So here is a feminist version, not by any means finding all the potential pitfalls of meaning but one possible meditation on the prayer:
Don’t say “Our Father” as if God was only ever a father or were literally male. Don’t say “Our” unless you are ready to broaden the group of “we” to embrace whoever has been left out. Do not say “who are” if you will behave as if your own wealth and privilege is more important than the kindom of God. Do not say “in heaven” if by it you mean absent and not also here in my life, in me.
Don’t say “hallowed be your name” if you think other faiths cannot hallow God’s name. Do not say “hallowed” if you think religion is a set of rules and judgements rather than a living, holy place of encounter. Do not say “your” if your God has been recast in your own image…white? male? straight? cis? middle-class? educated? human? Do not say “name” if you are afraid to be named and known in return.
Or then again say it all, say it and learn to mean it. If God will parent you into this “heaven” way of being, if God is a sacred, named and known encounter then dare to say it all and be transformed!
Don’t say “thy kingdom come” as if God is an archaic form of oppressive government. Dare to demand and commit to “your kindom come”. Don’t say “your will be done” if you don’t have the courage to accept that God’s will is for a deeper, broader love for all…for the refugee, the single mother, the queer, the homeless, the welfare recipient and yes even for the right-wing bigot. Don’t say “your will be done” without accepting that God’s will, will radically transform you, and then transform you again! Don’t say “your will be done” without remembering that God’s will for you is joy and fulfilment. Say it! Trust it! Dance it!
Don’t say “on earth” without valuing food and water, music and cuddles and sex and conversation and your own bleeding, aging, beautiful body. Don’t say “on earth” without committing that all God’s children have access to the gifts of God on earth. Don’t say “on earth” without kissing the earth and calling her “mother” and loving her for she too is a child of God. God’s will on earth is love.
Don’t say ”as it is in heaven” without radical hope. Don’t say “as it is in heaven” if you are going to argue that it is impossible to strive for fairness, sustainability and equity. Do not say “as it is in heaven” if you think it does not matter that other people suffer. Do not mention heaven unless you are willing to hammer on its gates and demand its graces spill out through you. Yes I said “demand”, did you think prayers were for cowering and grovelling?
Say it, learn to mean it. Shout it, sing it, celebrate it, touch it, be it. The prayer our lovely Jesus-Wisdom man told us. A prayer we learn, a prayer we grow into.
Don’t say “give us” without knowing that God can and does become involved in human life and history. Don’t say “give” without being prepared to share. Don’t say “give” without opening your hands and hearts to welcome and receive. Don’t say “us” if your circle is too small for the stranger and the orphan. Don’t say “us” if you cannot be kind to “them”. Don’t say “this day our daily bread” if you think this life does not matter and people can “wait until heaven”. Don’t say “this day” if you think it doesn’t really matter what you choose moment to moment. Don’t say “this day” if you will not work for a world that is still here tomorrow.
Don’t say “bread” if you mean a particular culture’s version of bread is the only one. Don’t say “bread” if your loaf is perfectly risen and soft and fluffy while your neighbour subsists on stale crumbs. Don’t say “bread” without being broken and shared. Don’t say “bread” without meaning rice, pasta, quinoa, mealie, chapatti, tortilla and every type of Jesus. Don’t say bread and skimp of the wine. Don’t turn away those who are ill or old or female, those who are Indigenous or foreign or have a different faith, those who are broken or on welfare or ill, those who are depressed or imprisoned or seem just plain lazy. Bread is for everyone. Break it!
Don’t say “forgive us” if you are afraid to forgive yourself. Don’t say “forgive us” unless you are truly sorry. Don’t be sorry without trying to understand. Don’t assume you understand without listening. Don’t say “forgive us” until you have committed to keep listening to the oppressed even when they begin to bore. Don’t understand without committing to change. But do be daring and start somewhere. Start somewhere and let it make you change. Bread and forgiveness go together in the prayer. Eat the daily bread of the work we have done, take it as gift. Commit to change as a response to the bread. Be broken in your privilege. Be broken in your brokenness. Be fed together- oppressor and oppressed.
Don’t say “trespasses” if you mean nitpicking about individual peccadilloes. Don’t say “trespasses” if you violate other people’s space or right to be themselves. Say “as we forgive” and learn to forgive. Say “as we forgive” and agree to being forgiven slowly and to have listening and recompense demanded of you. Say “as we forgive” and cry with relief when forgiveness is given freely. Say “as we forgive” and do not cast the first stone. Say “as we forgive” and learn to love and forgive yourself.
“Do not put us to the test” because life is a journey not a standardised test. “Do not put us to the test” because we want a holistic and respectful way of learning. “Do not put us to the test” because we want to love, not perform our way into your kindom. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if you want to be delivered primarily from other people- unbelievers and sinners. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if your own inability to love is above questioning. Do not say “deliver us…” if you still cling to easy answers and easy theologies. Do not say “evil” without striving to see the good in the world.
“Deliver us God from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your loveliness keep us free from sin (hatred?) and protect us from all anxiety (despair?) as we live in joyful hope the sacramental presence of your living Word (also known at one time as Jesus)”
What do we mean by saying “the kindom, power and glory are yours” how are they God’s? Where do they flow from to exist and belong to someone? What is it to us? Do we simply recognise this reality or help accomplish it? Should we be relieved or frightened at it? Are we perhaps the kindom, power and glory of God in our own lives? Not all of it, but the part we can access?
God transform my desires so that they actualise joy. Teach me to be radically in touch with myself in the familiar prayers, in the tradition, in the things I ask from you. Call me out of the escapism that harms me or my neighbour. I pray all these things as I make ready to eat with you and your creation, to be washed and fed, to be caught up in the spilling out of Eucharist in all things.
I come to your banquet as a typical middle-aged Latvian woman asking, ”what can I bring? how can I help?” and gossiping with you in the kitchen as we set the table. Let me be part of the trusted friends whose contribution is welcome.