The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.
‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’
Sitting in my office earlier this week, I had one of those special moments teachers and school chaplains occasionally experience. In conversation with a student we were discussing what our purpose in life was. He looked at me and said, ‘My purpose in life is to write my own purpose.’ This was not a glib throw away line. It was a carefully thought out position by a self-aware young man (15 years old). He went on to explain that instead of spending time trying to find God’s will and purpose for him, he was going to live the life he was given and in doing so, would write the purpose for his life as he went along. We explored how he came to that conclusion and the implications for the way he lives his life, and it was clear that this more than just a wish. It was a part of his life rule and practice.
Somewhere he had intuitively understood the dictum Brother Christian spoke about at Gethsemani, ‘You become what you practice.’ He is becoming, slowly but surely, his own purpose. His practice of living life as it is, right there in front of him, with gratitude and humility, is beginning to write itself on his life for others to see. He is not praying for a purpose, he is acting as one with a purpose.
In the chinese classic, the Confucian text the Hsiao Ching, which is basic reading for the average Chinese school student, the writer outlines five basic relationships necessary for good relationships and good leadership. They are:
- the relationship between father and son, which is justice;
- the relationship between mother and son, which is compassion,
- the relationship with the parents, which is filial love;
- the relationship between elder brother to younger brother, which is friendship;
- the relationship between the younger brother and the elder brother, which is respect.
It is understood that if these relationships are developed and practiced then the community takes on a foundation of love. The Hsiao Ching says; ‘ He who really loves his parents will not be proud in a high position; he will not be insubordinate in an inferior position, and with equals he will not be contentious.’ In other words, when you have these relationships right you are balanced at your centre. You know who you are and you do not need to belittle others, to grovel to others or to argue to be noticed and to ensure that others know you are there. You are at peace with yourself and your purpose in life, and you are able to help others as they write this purpose for themselves.
The disciples have noticed that the disciples of other rabbi’s have a communal prayer which sums up the teaching and philosophy of their particular school of faith. They want one too. But as usual, what they ask for is not necessarily what they get. Yes, Jesus gives them a prayer, and it’s a ‘nice’ prayer. It’s short, simple and easy to remember, always good for a school prayer. Yet it is more than just a prayer. It is a rubric for life. It is a compressed manual for writing our purpose.
This is a prayer of humility, of divine purpose, of sufficiency, of compassion, of attention. It reminds us that regardless of who we think we are as human beings, God remains forever at the centre of God’s creation, that if we put this prayer into practice in the world in which we live, we will not only write our purpose, but we will write God’s purpose. It’s up to us.
A proper understanding of our relationship with God, with our world and with others will empower us to live life to the fullest and to open the space for others to live similarly. We are not haughty and egotistic because we praise and worship God as the centre of all things. We understand that life is a mystery to us and only God knows what the kingdom of God looks like but if we write our purpose by staying in our lives we will play apart in bringing in the kingdom of God. We recognise that we don’t need more than what is sufficient for our immediate needs and therefore will live in such a way that others have their daily bread. We recognise that we are not perfect and need compassion for our frailties and that others need us to treat them in same way, and we know that our frailties trip us and that we need to pay attention to our emotions, desires and prejudices so that we avoid disaster for ourselves and for others. It is rubric for living.
And the Lord’s prayer is difficult. It is not a prayer for us and those like us. It is not just a prayer about our relationships with our family (although that is often hard enough) or with people who share our image and our values. It is a prayer that asks to help those we fear, those that frighten us, those who are different to us, those who challenge our feeling of privilege and entitlement. It is a prayer that asks us to challenge the prevailing societal attitudes which victimises, discriminates, isolates and marginalises others such as the the voter ID law in some US states which will effectively stop minorities without photo id from voting, or the changes to the processing of immigrants arriving by boats in PNG and leaving them there.
When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer he was laying down a rule for life which he went on to elaborate in his story of how prayer works. The neighbour gives the bread because of the persistent practice of asking and appealing to his sense of justice and compassion, not just because it was annoying, and it was annoying. The world will only welcome in the kingdom of God if we are annoying, that is if we unceasingly practice the Lord’s prayer as the means to write ours and God’s purpose for the world.
And it’s not just for Sunday or just now. Doing it once doesn’t count. It’s for now and forever. And no matter how hard it may make life for us, we do not have permission to stop praying the Lords prayer.