When Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus gave them them what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Our Father.” Throughout Lent, we’ll be taking a long look this gift Jesus offered. It has been an anchor for me in my process. Perhaps it can be the same for you.we’ll take a look at several aspects of the prayer and consider what it means for our own prayer life. But first, I’d like to share why I’ve found this prayer such a powerful gift…
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
THE GIFT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S WORDS
I have often been disappointed that I cannot find my own words in prayer. Or that I cannot find sufficient, satisfying words for prayer. I’ll sit down, close my eyes and have… nothing. I’ll open my eyes, adjust my posture and still get … nothing. Then the cycle starts. I get frustrated with myself and apologize to God for being bad at this or for not showing up often enough, meaning that the first words (sometimes the only words) I find for prayer are apologies for praying!!
Well, I’m done beating myself up for not being more naturally inclined to spiritual things or more ready for religious practice. as if the goal or expectation is that prayer naturally and easily bubbles up from within me.
Here is something true: while the desire to pray does often well up within us, the execution of prayer is a practiced discipline in which our hearts and minds are trained to watch see and listen and hear and feel differently. For me, practicing prayer has meant borrowing on and being shaped by the words of others. Just like my soul has found shape and expression in the words of a song or the dialogue in a book, my soul often needs shaping by the wiser, more carefully selected words of others.
Today, give yourself the gift of a few minutes to pray the words Jesus gave his disciples. I’d suggest praying it three times.
FIRST TIME – Just read it or recite it naturally and at whatever pace you naturally move at. Then give yourself a moment and take a few breaths before doing it again.
SECOND TIME – More slowly this time, read or recite the prayer and pay attention to the images, thoughts and feelings that might pop up as you do. Is there a line in the prayer that catches you? Don’t think about why you’re seeing, thinking or feeling these things… just pay attention.
Then, after that second pass through. Take a longer pause and focus on that image or thought (or name or face) or the line from the prayer that jumped out at you. Ask the Spirit of God to speak to you about what that means for you.
Then, take another long breath and ready yourself for your third pass.
THIRD TIME – Keeping the thought or image in mind that jumped out at you, read or recite the prayer one last time, even more slowly and then give yourself the gift of silence for a few breaths.
Before you leave this time, ask the Spirit of God to continue speaking to you about whatever image or thought may have jumped out at you. Perhaps ask “Why is that in my mind?” or “Is there a course of action I am supposed to take?”
You may want to use a journal to capture any stay thoughts or record your experience. Sometimes, coming back to what we’ve written later means seeing what it is we were hearing, seeing, feeling more clearly.
Image by Scott Erickson, from the book Prayer: 40 Days of Practice