Of Prayer and Pronouns

The Gospel this Sunday includes a request from the disciples who, after watching Jesus pray, ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Jesus answers that request saying, “When you pray, pray like this.”  And then he says the words we know so well.

Sometimes knowing things well–by rote really–blocks people’s hearing of the words.  At least that’s what happens to me when I know something so well, I don’t even have to think about it.  A poem rolls off my tongue, and I miss the rhythm in the words.  A psalm spoken quickly, and the diverse voices the psalm contains escape my hearing.  A prayer repeated and repeated and repeated.  “Our Father….” and I’m off in auto-pilot land.  And that’s a shame because I miss the challenge that lies at the core of perhaps the most repeated prayer in our Christian tradition. “Give us each day our daily bread.”  Forgive us, lead us, deliver us–plural pronouns referring not to an individual but to a community.
I repeat the prayer–this time focusing on the “us”, the “our” and the “we” of it.   This time I hear those pronouns and I picture the disciples gathered at Jesus’ feet–Mary and Martha and James and John and Peter and Mary of Magdela–praying that they receive the bread they need and that their debts are forgiven.  Or I picture our Live at Five community as we pray this prayer together–each of individually and all of us together praying to be forgiven, led, saved from evil.
Then I wonder again, “Just who is the we, the us, in this prayer we pray together?”  Could Jesus have had a different “we” in mind?  Could Jesus have been speaking from that place of solidarity with the least of God’s children when he taught his disciples that prayer?  Again and again in the Hebrew scriptures, prophets and poets speak of the Anawin of God by which they mean “the lowly”, the overlooked, the shunted aside.
What if we prayed that prayer we know so well in the voices of the lowly of God?   What if we prayed, “Give us each day our daily bread” and pictured the people who come to our food pantry and the people who stand in line at St. Martin’s?  What if as we prayed the words, “Forgive us our debts” we remembered all those who have lost or who stand at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure?  What if, when we said the words, “deliver us from evil”, we pictured the faces of all those children who have died from gun violence since Newtown?
Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  (Letter From a Birmingham Jail)  What if our prayer and our life together in community reflected King’s understanding of our fundamental connectedness with all of God’s creation?
Not long ago, one of my colleagues at St. Martin’s Day Shelter was reflecting on how working at St. Martin’s had changed his outlook on things–some big but most little.  The one that stood out in his mind was his attitude towards the weather.  No longer did he greet summer storms or winter snows with unmixed delight.  He now looked at the weather through the lens of those who live on the streets.  Though he still welcomed a good drenching rain, he now gauged that rain through the eyes of his friends camping out.  His growing sense of solidarity with people who live on the streets is not only shifting how he looks at the world he shares with people on the streets; it’s also shaping his notions about what is important, what is urgent and what’s not worth worrying about–a treasured gift from friendships made at the margins.
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