“I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” Mother Theresa.
How can we really pray the Lord’s Prayer so that it changes us?
Every Sunday at church, or while watching a live streamed service in this time of COVID-19, we say or sing the Lord’s Prayer. Bur how many of us really pray this prayer? I know I’ve often rattled it off and reached Amen without having thought about the words I’m saying. In this meditation, I am inviting us to take the time to really think about each petition. Read the words, then take a few minutes of silence to think about what you mean when you pray each part of the prayer. Take it slowly, maybe one or two petitions at a time and allow yourself a few minutes of silence to meditate on the words of the prayer.
It is said that Prayer is when we talk to God, and meditation is when God talks to us, so start by asking for God’s Guidance in your Prayer:
Loving God, open my heart and mind that I may know your presence with me and be open to hearing what you want to say to me. Amen
Then sit quietly for a moment to still yourself before you start.
Not my father, our father. We are all part of God’s family. Nowhere in this prayer do I focus on me. It’s always us, always our. How can I truly pray this prayer if my faith has no room for others and their needs?
Don’t be put off by the patriarchal father. Jesus used the word Abba, better translated as Dad or Papa. But he might just as accurately used Mom or Mama had he been praying this today. How has God been a loving parent to you? Count your blessings and give thanks
What or where is heaven? In Jesus day heaven was that place above the earth and the sky where God lived. Today, we know from pictures from space and from powerful telescopes there is no such place. Where is God? God is everywhere and so is heaven. God is in us and we “live and move and have our being” in God, as St Paul says. What does this mean for the way I live my life?
Hallowed be your Name
Hallowed describes something that is holy, that is respected and admired. Moses, at the burning bush, asked God what his name was. In Biblical times a person’s name expressed his or her character. God, God’s nature and character must be valued and respected. When we approach God in prayer, we are connecting with the divine one whose very nature is holy. How does this change our attitude to prayer?
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven
I have left these as a single petition because that’s what they are, God’s will is for the Kingdom to come. Both are to happen here on earth. As John Dominic Crossan says, emphasizing the meaning of this prayer, “Heaven is in great shape — the problem is here on earth”.
What would the Kingdom of God on earth be like? In the words of the prophet Micah, it would be a place where we all do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Justice, meaning restorative justice not retribution; kindness, loving our neighbour as ourselves, humility, recognising that we are not all knowing and respecting the views of others.
In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “Not my will but thine”. Marcus Borg put it this way: “Thy Kingdom come” means my kingdom must go. This was a subversive statement in first century Palestine which was under the occupancy of the Roman Empire. What does it mean today? In what ways do our culture and our laws lead us in ways contrary to the Kingdom of God?
And, as individuals, how do we follow our own desires rather than working to fulfil God’s dream of a just and compassionate world?
Give us, this day, our daily bread,
World hunger is a massive problem. According to the World Health Organization, hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health, even at this time when we all fear COVID-19. The WHO also states that malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality, present in half of all cases. Far, far, more people die every day from starvation than are dying of COVID-19. When we ask God for our daily bread, we asking for everyone to have enough to eat. As we think about our well stocked fridges, freezers and pantries, we should ask ourselves what we are doing to help end hunger in others. In practical terms, this might mean donations to food charities, food for the food bank, a meal taken to the neighbour who can no longer cook or feed himself or herself adequately.
Hunger isn’t only for physical food. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” says Jesus. What are you hungering for today? In the silence share your needs with God. Rest in God’s presence. The answer may not come immediately, but it will come – in a word from a friend, in a book you pick up, in your own thoughts. How and when will God speak to you?
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
We all need forgiveness, both individually and collectively. As individuals, we understand what it means to forgive those who sin against us, even if we find it hard. We can and should forgive even if the other person isn’t repentant. It’s for our own peace of mind and to allow us to move on. It doesn’t mean we condone what the other has done.
God forgives us even before we ask and isn’t condoning our sin; asking for God’s forgiveness is for our sake, not God’s. .Maybe we should pray: “Teach me, God, to forgive others as you forgive me”.
We find it harder to wrap out minds around the thought of God forgiving “us” as a group, a society, a nation. But throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (which is sometimes referred to as the Old Testament), we read about how the Israelites sinned against God. Sometimes God punished them; always God forgave them. We might visualize the “us” as our country and our culture, our laws and attitudes, our customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements. We might take a more global view, and think of the industrialized capitalist countries of the “First World”. Or we could narrow it down to our own church, or ethnic group. Each person is part of many groups we call “us”, all of which look after our own interests first and in one way or another need God’s forgiveness.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil
Speaking about the original translation of these words, Lead us not into temptation, Pope Francis said: “I’m the one who falls, but it’s not [God] who pushes me into temptation to see how I fall. No, a father does not do this. A father helps us up immediately.”
The two parts of this petition are complementary. Save us from being tested (tempted) and protect us from evil (sinning) if we are tempted.
But in giving this an individualistic reading, the Pope is only addressing part of the meaning. “Save us …” not save me. What sort of trials do we as a community need saving from? Think about systemic injustice, greed that denies others the basics of life, prejudice … and add your own. These are such enormous, global problems that no individual can solve them. It takes “us” not “me”. But I am part of us, and if no one does anything, the problems will persist and get worse. Theresa of Avila wrote that God has no hands but our hands. What can you do to make a small dent in the systemic issues that we face?
Most modern versions of the Bible translate this part of the Lord ’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel as deliver us, or rescue us, from the Evil One. (The Greek text has “the evil”.) This makes it clearer what we are to be rescued from. We may not believe in a literal devil, red suit, horns and tail. But the devil, the Evil one, who tempted Jesus in the wilderness, is a way of referring to that which makes us sin. So we are asking God here to rescue us from the temptation to sin, to strengthen our resolve to be unselfish, to guide us in the way of love.
For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.
We started this prayer by recognising the intimate parent / child relationship we have with our God. Now, in this doxology at the end of the prayer, we are reminded how this Father / Mother figure, to whom we have poured out the needs of our hearts, is in fact the all-powerful, eternal ruler of the Universe. We end our prayer by acknowledging that glory also belongs to God; Glory: worship, praise, honor, and thanksgiving. We end our meditation by giving praise and thanks to God. Amen
So shall it be. This is our endorsement on this prayer.
Now spend a few more minutes in silence asking God to show you what this will mean in your life. The answer may not come immediately, but if you are sincere, it will come. Finish by saying the Lord’s Prayer again.