Monday, June 02, 2008

Thoughts on the Lord's Prayer

A few weeks ago I was asked to lead a round-table discussion on worship in the American Baptist Tradition (in Rhode Island, I suppose.) I expected a vigorous debate between those who advocated traditional worship (music) and those who were trying contemporary forms of worship (music.) There was some good respectful discussion on these topics, but i was not shocked or challenged by it. What surprised me was the apparent number of churches that are leaving behind the recitation of the Lord's Prayer in the sunday morning liturgy. 'They don't understand what they are saying, so why keep saying it,' seemed to be the collective reasoning behind this decision. In fairness, this discussion only happened in one hour, so unfortunately we could not reach great dept in our conversation.
I am concerned with transition which leaves behind tradition for three reasons.
First I wonder if we need to 'understand' the Lords Prayer for it to be an important part of our worship? I am reminded of something that I C.S. Lewis once wrote (I cannot remember where) about liturgy. I am paraphrasing the thought here, of a much more sophisticated thinker than I. But I believe he suggested was that one of the strengths of a liturgy, was that we didn't have to think to be a part. the liturgy would be the spirit praying for us when we did not know what words to pray ourselves. this is my experience of the Lord's Prayer. Personally given to bouts of depression and anxiety, intercessory prayer, where I 'talk' to God, can cause a case of sever fixation and intrusive thoughts that made me feel worse instead of better. Should prayer always make me feel better? No, but for me, this experience didn't allow conviction that leads to action. Just futher depression. I pray the Lord's Prayer in this situation, because it calm my mind and body, allows me to fix my mind and heart on something outside myself (my anxieties) and allows me to move into prayer where I can talk without 'spinning' or listen for and to God.

Second, if people don't understand it, why not explain it? I still lead the Lord's Prayer in worship at the church I am blessed to serve. I have noted that even slowing down my recitation, which many people do tend to listen too, helps get people out of a mindless recitation and into a mindful recitation. Other versions of the Lord's prayer, that remain faithful to the spirit and intent, but which change the language is another way that we can lead people into a more mindful recitation of the Prayer. I fear leaving behind things that people don't understand. It seems to me that Sabbath has been severly misunderstood in our culture for some time and now it has become an antiquated idea that many do not know about or understand. Instead of growing silent and allowing the Lord's prayer to become extinct, why not teach and preach it?

Third, I am increasingly convinced that the Lord's Prayer is as much a manifesto of Kingdom Ethics as it is simply a prayer. Hallowed be Thy name reminding us of our ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God as we negotiate our modern world. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, reminding us that our politics are oriented toward the Kingdom as presented by the life of Christ, instead of democrat, republican, conservative or liberal. Forgive us our debts, reminds us of Sabbath/jubilee economics, Give us this day our daily bread, the gospel present in concrete acts of compassion and service. Here is a summation of what the Kingdom of God is meant to look like and act like. If we stop reciting this prayer, will we forget who we are and why we do what we do as a church? This is my worry.

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