Monday, December 11, 2006

A Message About Prayer

note:Some Friends have noticed that it has been a long time (Since July, in fact) since my last blog post. I offer this post as a kind of cryptic postcard from where I am sojourning.

As I've said in a reply to Paul L's recent comment on my last post, I've been rather preoccupied with problems much closer to home than the blogosphere. I have, however, kept going to Meeting for Worship. On December 3rd I sat down on my usual bench in a pretty heavy (as opposed to weighty) frame of mind and began to inwardly and silently pray. In the course of this prayer, something opened in me about prayer itself and the following message emerged. I gave the message aloud in Meeting, and I believe it was helpful ministry for some, notwithstanding that the "content" was nothing new. I reproduce it here from memory, so the word-choices are probably different than in the original message.

Friends, I have been blessed in recent weeks with many reminders of how weak and needy I can sometimes be, and of how much I stand in need of love, support, guidance, nurture and strength from God, from the community of Friends and from my loved ones. Blessed but also distressed. I do not really like to see myself as weak and needy.

With all this on my mind this morning, I felt a need to pray and did not know how to begin, so I meditated awhile on a sample prayer taught by Jesus, the one often called the "Our Father" or "The Lord's Prayer". I believe the words of this prayer are not given to us so that they can be repeated by rote as part of a ritual. I believe they are given so that they can teach us something about prayer itself and about the God to whom we pray. Here is what they have taught me this morning as I meditated on them:

First, our God is a parent to us, and we are invited to speak to God as to a parent. Gender is not the issue. We can call God "Father" (or "Papa") as Jesus did, or "Mother" if that is easier for some of us. The point is that God gave us being, God loves us, God cares for us, and God watches over us with the loving attention of a parent. We can talk to God in a familiar way.

Second even though God is our parent, God is also in Heaven, in the Sky, High Above us. God is not our God only, not in our control, and not on our "side" against someone else. We are to hallow God's name. To refrain from using it in profanity certainly, but more importantly not to dishonor it by invoking it as a cover or a sanction for our human agendas and parochial concerns.

We are urged to pray that God's will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. The way things are now is not God's will for how they should be, but the things that we ourselves want and wish for aren't necessarily God's will either. We are to ask for God's own will to be acccomplished, rather than ours, and in asking we need to commmit ourselves to seek for that will and then to cooperate with it, as far as we are enabled to understand it.

We are encouraged to ask for our "daily" bread today. Not for cake or steak, and not for a lifetime supply of even bread, and not for a plan or a roadmap or a promise to always be secure. Just for enough to feed us now.

We are also to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done, and to offer the same forgiveness for wrongs we have suffered, if any. We have a need to be freed from the chains of bitterness, guilt, and blame, in order to face the future in faith and love.

Finally, we are to ask that we not be "put to the test" beyond our strength. We don't have to be spiritual heroes. We don't tell the tempter to "bring it on". Instead we ask our Parent to deliver us from evil. And we trust that He will.

In sum: We are invited to ask God to deliver us from evil, to forgive us and help us forgive, to give us what we need today. We are invited to ask that God's will be done. We are reminded that God is our Parent but is also a Heavenly God with a name that should be hallowed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rich,
It is great to see you blogging again, even if you are still having a difficult time. The Lord's Prayer is so wonderful when you look closely at it instead of just reciting it mindlessly, thank you for sharing what it means to you. The first message I ever gave was about God as our parent (the only time I have ever gave a message at Atlanta Friends), it has always been a special concept to me - perhaps because God blessed me with parents and grandparents that show what parental love and guidance can be.
I pray that God will help you through your difficult time.
With love,

12:07 PM, December 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich, I too am delighted to see a new post from you.

I was once told that Conservative Friends used to have two standard questions by which they would greet one another after a long separation: "How has the Lord dealt with thee since last we met?", and "What is thy teaching for us this day?"

I am delighted to see you answering the latter question, and hope you will feel the way open to speak to the former as it seems appropriate.

8:19 AM, December 17, 2006  
Blogger Lorcan said...

What is very remarkable about the lord's prayer, is that it is a Kadish, a prayer one said for the dead, common in the part of Judea from which Yeshua came...

I've often thought on that, why a Kadish sould be brought to such a cental aspect in worship.

Thine in the light

8:34 AM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to Lorcan for pointing out that there is a connection between the Lord's prayer and the mourner's Kaddish. You can see some of the parallels in the following translation of the mourners' Kaddish which I am quoting from the My Jewish Learning website.

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

It seems plain that Jesus/Yeshua was quoting from or alluding to this Kaddish in what we now call the Lord's prayer. On the other hand, there are also elements in His prayer that are not in the Kaddish quoted here. Whether you would want to say His prayer is a Kaddish is, I suppose, a matter of definition.

A further interesting point is that while the mourner's Kaddish is said in memory of the dead, it does not actually mention death or mourning and is fundamentally a prayer of praise to God. I'm not sure when Kaddish became associated with mourning, but it may or may not have been prior to Jesus' use of it in His own prayer.

According to an article by Shira Goldberg in the Jewish Virtual Library:
Kaddish was not originally said by mourners, but rather by the rabbis when they finished giving sermons on Sabbath afternoons and later, when they finished studying a section of midrash or aggada. This practice developed in Babylonia where most people understood only Aramaic and sermons were given in Aramaic so Kaddish was said in the vernacular. This is why it is currently said in Aramaic. This "Rabbinical Kaddish" (Kaddish d'Rabbanan) is still said after studying midrash or aggada or after reading them as part of the service. It differs from the regular Kaddish because of its inclusion of a prayer for rabbis, scholars and their disciples. While anyone may say this Kaddish, it has become the custom for mourners to say the Rabbinical Kaddish in addition to the Mourner's Kaddish.

Shalom of Yeshua

- - Rich

3:07 PM, December 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is also a good article on the Lord's Prayer in relation to Jewish prayers in The Jewish Encyclopedia.

12:37 PM, December 20, 2006  

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