Yesterday was the first session of the Fall Reflection Series I am offering this fall at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The reflection series is titled Jesus Speaks and it is designed to deepen our appreciation of fundamental Christian teachings drawn from the words of Christ. Each session includes a talk, time for individual reflection and some sharing of the prayer experience.
The focus of today’s session was the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps the most well-known prayer in the Christian tradition, although as i shared with the participants the prayer comes almost verbatim from the Talmud. After giving a brief introduction to the series, I offered some thoughts about the various petitions of the prayer.
You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 25:44.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants for their prayer this week is here.
Our session continues next week with a focus on the Beatitudes.
Each week one of the participants in the vocation retreat weekend with which we began the semester sends the group something to reflect on that week. It can be a prayer, a poem, an inspirational quote, a reflection the individual wrote on a particular topic, or whatever else the person wishes to share.
This week, Meghan shared a version of the Lord’s Prayer that she had included some years before in a prayer booklet she helped compile while she lived in Tanzania. The version of the prayer is supposedly based on the original Aramaic. I have been unable to locate a source for the prayer; the link Meghan included for it lists it as being from an unknown source.
The petitions in this version do not track those of the prayer the way we typically pray it. Nonetheless, I thought it contained some beautiful petitions and images you might want to consider using in your prayer. So here it is:
O Cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration! Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your presence can abide.
Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.
Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with your desire.
Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.
Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.
Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.
For you are the ground and fruitful vision, the birth, power and fulfilment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples find him at prayer and ask him to “teach [them] to pray just as John taught his disciples.” In response, Jesus’ teaches them the prayer we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer, although the version contained in Luke’s Gospel is shorter than the Matthean formulation, which is closer to the words of the prayer as we pray them today.
While there is some variant in the petitions in the versions of the prayer as presented by Luke and Matthew, both veresions contain the plea, “Your Kingdom come.” In the words of Mary Lou Redding, the petition asks “that the world be transformed into a place where God reigns, where things are done by God’s standards.”
We know from Isaiah that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways, suggesting that transforming the world to a place where things are done by God’s standards means effecting a fundamental change the world. We also know that God does not expect to do all of the work on his own. The prayer “Your Kingdom come” is not licence to sit back and relax, while we wait for God to transform the world.
We each have a role to play in making God’s kingdom come. Thus, when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” we pray (or ought to be praying) for God to help us discern our role in transforming the world to kingdom and for God’s assistance in carrying out our task.
Note: I offer some further reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, given as part of a Fall Reflection Series I’m giving at UST and at St. Hubert’s, in a podcast which is linked here.
This week I began a Fall Refleciton Series at the University of St. Thomas Law School, titled, “Jesus Speaks.” (I will be offering the same series at St. Hubert beginning 10/3.) The aim of this five-week series is to deepen our appreciation of fundamental Christian teachings drawn from the words of Christ. Each week will focus on a different teaching: the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Eucharist, “Sell All you have” and the command to go out into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel. During the weekly gatherings, there will be a talk, time for individual reflection or guided meditation and some sharing. I will also distribute prayer material that I will invite the participants to use in their prayer for the coming week.
This first session was on the Lord’s Prayer, the most well-known prayer in the Christian tradition. In my talk, I gave a brief introduction to the series and offered a brief commentary on the prayer. After that I led the participants on a guided reflection, following which they shared with each other something of their prayer experience.
You can find the recording of the talk I gave this week at St. Thomas here . (The podcast runs for 22:25.) You can find here a copy of the prayer material for this week.
I metioned earlier in the week that I’m currently giving a Retreat in Daily Living on the theme of Praying with the Mystics. This week the retreatants are praying with Teresa of Avila.
Teresa spent a lot of time teaching her sisters and others how to grow closer to God in prayer. One of the subjects of a lot of her teaching in this regard was the Lord’s Prayer, which she felt should never involve mere recitation of words. To be prayed in an authentic manner, Teresa believed the words must be joined by mental prayer. She refers to this as recollective prayer – reciting a set prayer in a recollected fashion. A hallmark of the prayer is an ongoing effort to keep God in mind, to recall God’s constant presence. (Teresa recognized that distractions would arise in those praying in this way. She urges that when such distractions arise, one gently brings the mind back to God.)
To pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way was something she strongly urged on her sisters, teaching that “all contemplation and perfection” are enshrined in this one prayer”. She suggested they take a whole hour to pray it once, reflecting on and savoring each line.
In The Way of Perfection, she offers extensive commentary on each line of the prayer. Just to give a flavor of the commentary, Teresa calls the first line of the prayer – Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – “a reward so large that it would easily fill the intellect and thus occupy the will in such a way one would be unable to speak a word.” In it, she says, Jesus humbles himself in joining us in prayer and making himself our brother. She marvels at Jesus’ desire that God consider us his children and at the result of that desire: Because Jesus word cannot fail and God is obliged to be true to it, God as our Father must bear with us no matter how serious our offense. In Teresa’s words: “If we return to God like the prodigal son, God has to pardon us. God has to console us in our trials. God has to sustain us in the way a parent must. For, in effect, God must be better than all the parents in the world because in God everything must be faultless. And after all this God must make us sharers and heirs with” Jesus. So in this one first line of the prayer, Teresa finds all of Jesus love for us as well as the humility that allows Jesus to stop at nothing to become one with us.
My invitation to my retreatants for today is that they pray the Lord’s Prayer as Teresa instructed her sisters, spending some time in silent contemplation of each line. The idea is not to engage in a long thought process about the line, but only as much thinking as it takes to find something in the line – a word or an image or a feeling or sense – that connects one to God’s presence and love and to be in that place with God.