Good Vibrations

The Lord’s Prayer as Community, Congregation, Contemplation, and Compassion Jean Nevills Part 1 of 2

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Table of contents

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Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. Matthew 6:9-13  KJV
In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.
John Oxenham (1908)

Introduction

During the quarantine months of 2020-2021, churches moved online and, like so many others, I attended worship virtually.1 At first, I felt like a spectator. Then one Sunday, something happened.

Rather than recording the lone worship leader reading the Lord’s Prayer, the team used a pre-COVID recorded service to capture the whole congregation praying it together. Upon hearing   the voices praying as one Voice, I felt the rhythm and the timeless vibration of Spirit. I was transported from spectator to participant, from watcher to wonderer.

Praying in Community

Before I could read, I could recite this prayer and often did while sitting in the congregation with my sisters and parents. The prayer reverberated off the concrete floor, timber beams, and high ceiling while the S consonant in and at the end of our words shushed and slid along the aisles. We inhaled a shared breath in the pause between the phrases and prayed our way through to the Kingdom, Power, and Glory forever, Amen.

In the early 2000’s Harold Kurtz, executive director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship,2 was my guide along a walking trail in Ethiopia that led to a remote village church with mud walls and thatched roof, its doors open for Sunday worship.  He also acted as translator until the people began to pray in unison. I knew by the cadence and vibration they were praying the Lord’s Prayer. I added my ferenji3 tongue to the prayer that joined my heart to theirs.

The prayer Jesus taught has been prayed continuously across the centuries and “throughout the whole wide earth.”  In these careworn days of COVID-19, that tenacious indiscriminate disease underscores how very interconnected we are as creatures. And, for better or worse, it exposes our response-ability to one another as a human community for surviving/thriving. So, I take heart in the millions worldwide who are praying: Thy Kingdom come, Give us this day, and Deliver us from evil. While praying this prayer with Christ, we are also with one another.  Its prayerful recitation lays a foundation for turning quarrels and divisions into solidarity and compassion, and forms us as a great cloud of witnesses in our day.

In the Greater Congregation

Whether sitting along a crescendo gushing river of the Pacific Northwest or walking the windy beach to her Ocean’s circadian timpani, I am drawn to the symphonic waters. There is for me a thrumming vibration of a greater congregation along those shores that aligns my inner world and somehow orders my creaturely outer world, my kingdom. The tides and floods, the waves and rapids, are necessary and integral for the natural eco systems in this region and yet they are subject to the larger rule of seasons and lunar orbit.

Likewise, my kingdom is subject to the cosmic tides of God’s Kingdom—the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done comes to pass.4 That Kingdom I fervently pray will come, and with it the characteristics that Carolyn Arends names as “love, truth, justice, goodness, and wholeness,”5 which my rabbi friend refers to as Shalom.

As Invocation and Contemplation

While my mother and dad together kept this prayer for 75 years, during Dad’s laborious stint in a surgical recovery center The Lord’s Prayer kept them. Each night as Mom leaned in to kiss him, Dad held her and they prayed the dear words together before saying good night. I know, because I waited for Mom at the doorway listening to the rhythm and cadence of their voices, and felt the consoling vibration. Now and since Dad’s death during COVID, the Lord’s Prayer is for my mother an invocation, the preface to her own words, her own petitions, her own gratitude.

The whole of the prayer is for me a centering practice, settling me into deeper contemplative awareness. It is grace that it holds and sustains and then lets go. Whether or not Jesus intended it, the prayer offers a format, a scaffolding for building a life of prayer from which the soul can rise. It is right that it should eventually fall away to a deeper communion and intimacy with Our Father. Emily Dickinson’s poem illustrates:

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Augur and the Carpenter –
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life –
A Past of Plank and Nail
And slowness – then the scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul – 6

From Contemplation to Compassion

The first and foundational petition, Hallowed be Thy Name, I think, is being answered today. The name or essence that is for so many of us Our Father is honored as sacred and revered as the practitioners of prayer, gathered together by contemplative practice, find common ground in the deep desire for justice and peace, for compassion for all living beings, and advocate respect, even deep care, for the earth.

Wayne Teasdale’s book, The Mystic Heart, describes the re-emergence of intentional inter-spiritual conversation, at the mid-point of the last century. The 1984 conference in Snowmass, Colorado, which reconvenes annually, assembled representative practitioners of contemplative prayer and action from the major (and minor) religions and spiritualities. With deep respect for the distinctives of each tradition, Teasdale identifies these contemplatives as mystics—borrowing essential definitions from Evelyn Underhill who is adamant that the mystic is not one who knows about it but one who is living it7. It being a kind of life that is in conversation and encounter with God.

Reflecting from my own mystic heart, I wonder with hope that the very prayer, Hallowed be thy Name; Thy Kingdom come, prayed so faithfully across the centuries and around the globe, might be answered in the contemplatives of the world coming together in conference and consultation. These too are characterized by their collective intention toward love, truth, justice, goodness and wholeness, which is summed up in the word Compassion8.

Praying with every tongue and tribe and people

9While Carolyn Arends suggests a practice of praying the names of God that are in the Bible—she offers 46 that she believes also reveal God’s character, who God is and what God does10—there are more names than these in the Hebrew-Christian scriptures, all of which attempt to approach the unnamable God. I wonder if there might be careful consideration given to the way that every tongue and tribe and people refer to God and their encounters with God’s Ineffable Mystery, whether Sufi or Christian, Hindu or Buddhist, Native or 12-Step peoples.

Their sacred names, too, can reveal who God is and who we are in a world God so loves. With these other human beings, I can pray Hallowed be Thy Name. I can pray Thy Kingdom Come with these mystics and agree in prayer for the awakening and activity that will bring about a movement toward harmony, for Shalom for the earth “and all who dwell there-in,”11 as the Psalmist rightly declares its belonging to God.

Praying the Lord’s prayer in concert with others unites us with its universal petitions for the peaceable Kingdom, for daily bread, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from evil, while recognizing that part of the answer to prayer may depend on us—our choices, our reciprocity and advocacy for feeding and forgiving and delivering one another.

As we limp out of COVID, and our congregations re-emerge from varying phases of quarantine, may we listen again for Jesus’ voice in the vibration of his prayer. May our intentions and our actions align with the reality of God’s Kingdom in establishing a governance that stewards the earth and provides for the common welfare, food and health care, debt forgiveness and relief, that also takes seriously our specie’s penchant for trespassing, transgression, greed, and fear.

 Steer us clear of temptation, O God, and deliver us from our addictions.  May we daily live and move and find our being in harmony with Thee; in and by Thy power that is in and all around us, may we bear well the weight of Thy glory.  Amen.

Invitations to grow deeper

Spend seven days or, better, seven weeks with Carolyn Arends as your guide to praying through the Lord’s Prayer with her booklet, The Universe in 57 Words. A PDF copy is free at https://renovare.org/books/the-universe-in-57-words

Reflect on your own experience with praying the Lord’s Prayer. How has it formed you? How has your relationship with this prayer changed over time?  In what ways might it serve as an invocation or centering practice for you today?  Rest with a couple of slow breaths in Christ’s presence. Pray the Lord’s Prayer with him now.

Footnotes
  1. A shout out with gratitude for pastors and other faithful volunteers who curated all the pieces that keep us connected in community from sermons and special music to announcements. A personal thank you to  the Old Scotch Church in Hillsboro, Oregon.

  2. Harold Kurtz (1924-2009) Presbyterian Church-PCUSA pastor and missionary to Ethiopia for 22 years until a Marxist regime forced missionaries out.  He was my pastor at Kenton Presbyterian church from 1977-1989, and was the executive director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, focusing on reaching unreached peoples (1982–2000). Read more at http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2009-02/2009-02-083-kurtz.html
  3. ferenji,or ferengi. In Ethiopia, the word means foreigner.
  4. Dallas Willard, Kingdom of God lectures #7 of 34, minute mark 10:22-13:06. https://conversatio.org/media-room/the-kingdom-of-god/
  5. Carolyn Arends in her booklet on the Lord’s Prayer, The Universe in 57 Words. p,.22 Download a PDF at https://renovare.org/books/the-universe-in-57-words
  6. Elizabeth Barret Browning, The Props Assist the House, 1863,  in Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, ed Jane Hirshfield, published by HarperCollins, 1994. p. 175
  7. Wayne Teasdale, section title The Nature of Mysticism and Spirituality in The Mystic Heart (1993), published by New World Library.2001, my Kindle location 742.
  8. Compassion. Read about the compassion movement founded by Karen Armstrong at  https://charterforcompassion.org/index.php?option=com_sppagebuilder&view=page&id=50&Itemid=8351
  9. Revelations 7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. NRSV
  10. Carolyn Arends, Op. Cit. p. 19
  11. the earth “and all who dwell there-in,” Ps 24:1 KJV
Listen to all parts in this Conversations in the Dark: Looking Together for a Lighted Pathway series