April 23, 2010

The Lord's Prayer

I can't remember when I learned the Lord's Prayer. It seems I have always known it. In English, that is. I do remember learning it in Greek, memorizing it, not because I had to but just because I wanted to. That was quite a wonderful experience: the words curling around in my mouth, strange and beautiful, joining me to the ancients who first recorded and prayed them, sending me in search of translations that led me to fresh (for me) and deeper meanings of words grown overly familiar.

I love to say the Prayer when I am in North Carolina, in the church of my childhood. There is a rhythm, a cadence, that is so different from "up North." Here, sometimes, it almost feels as though we have to say it as fast as we can, maybe because we are afraid God will lose interest if it goes on too long. But when I pray this prayer with the people who have known me all my life, there is a spaciousness between the words, a leisurely pace that seems to provide space to rest and be restored. I hear what I am saying, really hear it, and I have time to think about what I am praying.

The Prayer is outrageous when you really listen to your own words. Even the very first word: "Our." Not "my." Right at the get-go, I am gathered up into the great family of God; I belong. And all those others saying that word "our" -- in whatever language -- belong, too. And because we belong to God, we belong to each other. It is a radical connectivity, one that I mostly fail to live into. But there are other parts of the prayer that help with that: "Forgive us." And then there are the other demands: "Give us;" "Lead us not;" "Deliver us." How can we dare to command God, and yet we do every time we pray this Prayer.

A pastor I once knew who worked with Alzheimer's patients said that the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer stayed with those who were Christian longer than almost anything else. These are words that we know in the core of our being. But we know them so well that it is easy not to hear them, even when we are saying them out loud. So I cherish my Southern praying, being slowed down, surrounded by those who know and love me best, and hearing -- really hearing -- what I am saying to God.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever.