The treasure of the Lord’s Prayer is so vast that Christians have been plumbing its depths since the very first days. It is a pearl of great price, and yet, in its ubiquity, perhaps it has lost some of its luster.
For as long as I can remember, this prayer has formed the backdrop of my spiritual life. I don’t remember sitting down and learning it systematically. It was just in the atmosphere of the family and church community I inhabited.
And so, it usually takes some conscious effort for me to return to the words, the layers of meaning and desire expressed, to revivify otherwise dulled, ambient noise. In the pages of this issue of Cowley, devoted to the Lord’s Prayer, we hope to do just that: to return to the words of this prayer, to strip away what dulls us to it, and to return anew to its transformative power.
Over the years and in different contexts, I can recall encountering slightly different versions of this prayer; sometimes we ask forgiveness for trespasses, for debts, or for sins. Sometimes saying the correct, or at least familiar word seemed really important, and at other times, I was just happy to be saying the words with others. And on some occasions, I found that hearing the prayer spoken in various languages – unknown to me but coming from the hearts of people from all over the world – seemed to rise like a beautifully rich fragrance to God. One prayer; many different experiences.
I wonder, how do you experience this prayer? Does it wash over you? Does your mind begin to wander as soon as the familiar words begin? Matthew’s version (Matthew 6:9-13) is the more robust form of the prayer, which exists in most of our liturgical settings. Luke’s (Luke 11:2-4) is a more sparse, bare-bones version. It rouses me a bit to notice what’s not there.
I hope that this exploration of the Lord’s Prayer will rouse us from the stupor of familiarity, as we strive to awaken and return to the Lord. If there is ever a time to refresh and renew our prayer it is now.
From the time of the early Christians, this prayer was handed on to new believers as one of the treasures of our tradition. The Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed were given to catechumens as they were preparing for baptism. New believers were invited to savor and cherish the precious gift of these words, so central to our faith they were often simply referred to as “The Prayer.”
On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the Convent of the Pater Noster stands on the site of the fourth-century ruins of a church associated with the spot where Jesus first taught the disciples this prayer. The walls inside and out are bedecked with dozens and dozens of ten-foot-high tile plaques, painted with the prayer in at least one hundred languages.
Those plaques are not uniform. Like our own lives of prayer, they have a variety of states. Some have become dusty and dulled. Some are protected from sun and rain in cloister walks. Others are exposed to the elements, where dust, pollen, and bird droppings accumulate. Little bits of moss and mildew cling to some; others have been adorned with bits of graffiti. In time, they all need careful cleaning and repair.
What is the state of this prayer in your heart today? Could it use some sprucing up?
If your primary experience with this prayer is in corporate worship, perhaps you will find it helpful in these pages to take some time to reconnect with it, line by line, word by word. This Cowley invites us to slow down. As we move through the prayer, we invite you to take in each word and phrase, to lovingly abide with it, and allow it to once more shine light on your path.
We might first begin by asking for grace, “God, help me to set aside everything I think I know about this prayer, that I might have an open mind and a new experience of you.”
We pray that the cleansing work of the Spirit will clear away contention and controversy for the purpose of attuning our hearts to God’s beating heart of love.
As you pray this prayer across these pages, let its expansive themes unfold: relationship with God, the holy name, the Kingdom, God’s will, daily bread, forgiveness, and freedom from temptation. Allow your soul to adore God as the words are burnished and restored to a brilliant luster. We pray that, being thus renewed and refreshed, we can bring this prayer to worship as a lamp on a stand, an offering of incense, fragrant and pleasant, as our prayers rise before God.
Jesus’ invitation is for you: Pray then, in this way…