“One of the disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’”
Monday, 14 September 2020
Today, and in the days to come, I shall be reflecting on the most famous prayer in the Christian tradition, the Lord’s Prayer – often called the ‘Our Father’. As we shall see, there are two versions of it in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew. The latter, in one form or another, is most commonly used in church services.
My suggestion is that though this is a Christian prayer, it can be used across religious traditions. It is not in itself, if you analyse it, a statement of specific faith like a creed. Indeed some biblical scholars have even suggested that in many respects it is rooted in Jewish prayers. My suggestion is that it is as not simply an outline of what to pray. Rather, it is how we are to pray.
What does it mean to pray? I suspect many of us grew up thinking that prayer is asking God for something, whether for oneself or someone else. This form of prayer is called either petitionary (literally: asking) or intercessory (asking for someone else). It is undoubtedly part of what prayer is, but not the only aspect of it. There is also contemplative prayer in its various form, where we reflect on how we encounter God in scripture, in nature or in silence, to name but three ways. Then there is the prayer of worship, often but not exclusively in church, where we glorify God.
How we pray begins with the means we use – as described above. But it goes further. How we pray is also about our own disposition and capacity. On the former, do we pray willingly or out of some sense of obligation? Do we want to pray at all? Do we do it out of duty or fear? Capacity refers to our ability – do we find praying easy, or do we get distracted? Are we able to somehow connect to God, or do we feel that our prayers go nowhere?
My suggestion is that the Lord’s Prayer offers us an integrated, balanced approach. The underlying desire is union with God, a union in which we acknowledge our duties to God, neighbour and self even as we seek God to perfect in our lives the very imperfections that mark our lives. It is almost like we are saying…