"How Do You Pray, by Pastor Fred
How do you pray? What God, do you pray to?
My mother told me more than once that she wished I could have met my grandfather, her father, because, she told me, he was such an amazing person. He started the Boston Human Society for the Cruelty of Animals. He also taught, and was the Superintendent of the Sunday School, at the same church in Milwaukee I later was Confirmed at. Unfortunately, he died suddenly, when my mom was in college, years before I was born.
Once when she was telling me this same story about how she wished I could have known my grandfather, she also offered up this. Every night before bed, he got down on his knees to pray. It was obviously an image that moved her deeply.
I have read that Alexander Hamilton, and other Founding Fathers and Mothers, also got down on their knees to pray. Perhaps it was a tradition that lasted many generations. I don’t know of anyone who still does, but we all know it as a form of piety and faith, that shows respect to God.
In the Gospels, people often fall down at Jesus’ feet, for example, when they ask to be healed, showing a posture of prayerful worship.
How do you pray?
It is testimony to how far we have come, I suppose, that we now allow for prayer to be, in some sense, our own faithful actions that we do out of lovingkindness, and for justice in the world. Helping the homeless, or protesting the lack of clean water, are often considered enacted prayers, through our doing.
Yet, when the Disciples see Jesus in prayer, ‘in a certain place,’ Luke doesn’t tell us what posture his prayer takes. They wait nicely until he had finished, before they ask Jesus to teach them to pray. After all, it dawns on them, John the Baptist taught his disciples! So, what’s our prayer going to be?! How and what, will their prayer be, as followers of Jesus?
Apparently Jesus is ready, at the drop of this hat, to instruct them. He doesn’t say to fall down at his feet. But he does begin by addressing who he wants his Disciples to pray to, that is, to “Abba!” Or, in our translation, “Father.” ‘Abba’ is the Aramaic word for father, or perhaps closer to, ‘daddy.’ The Apostle Paul uses ‘Abba’ in his letters to the Galatians, and the Roman churches, both times in the context of prayer, as well. So it seems to have been a Jesus-tradition, that stuck!
We pray to God, who is like a familiar, and good parent, to us – our motherly father. But at the same time, we pray to the holy one, the one who is our creator God, the name above all names – “hallowed be your name.”
And finally, we ask for God’s kingdom to come. In Luke’s version of Jesus’ prayer, it is just that simple – “Abba, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” In this third petition, there is a gap between this kingdom we live in, and God’s kingdom, and so the prayer Jesus teaches us, sets our minds on the peace and justice we all desire, and the mission God calls us to, to enact it.
How do we pray? We pray with both familiarity, and deep reverence, to our God. Jesus didn’t tell us what posture of prayer to take. Luke doesn’t presume to either. When ‘Jesus was praying in a certain place,’ – Was he on his knees? Standing with arms outstretched? Or leading people in a march that God’s kingdom come!?
The main thing is having, the confidence and humility, the courage and the faith, to acknowledge that God is, almighty, and at hand, and God is ruler of the realm and kingdom we pray for.
In the crazy parable that follows, Jesus emphasizes the shameless way the man acts, in assuming his request for bread in the middle of the night, will be answered! “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’ The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked, my children are all down for the night; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ But let me tell you,” says Jesus, “even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, at least because of his [shamelessness] he will get up and get you whatever you need.”
It takes a courageous faith in God to be asking, like this, and it presumes that God is in a close and familiar relationship with us, the petitioners.
So, if that’s how we pray, what is the God that we pray to?
Can we simply ask anything and we’ll receive it? Knock on any door we like, and it will be opened to us? If we pray hard enough, will God make us rich? Will our cancer magically disappear? Will our enemies be vanquished by morning? What about the gift of free will?
The 2nd half of the Lord’s Prayer turns from naming God, to naming what our needs are. Just three things: 1) “Give us each day our daily bread.” Again, in faith, we boldly ask each day that we have enough to eat. “We,” not just “me,” shaping the way we value food, knowing that in this world, it is said that we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet – but because of the inequity of distribution, most of the world is malnourished or even starving. ‘Daily bread’ is a huge, and continuing concern, both practically and spiritually, that we pray for.
Secondly, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” You can’t have one without the other, Jesus tells us. It is not transactional, or quid pro quo, but ‘forgiving and being forgiven’ is one, unified, mystical journey we undertake every day, as we seek God’s kingdom to come.
Jesus asks us, to pray for the food that sustains everyone everyday, and for a discipline of forgiveness – because that’s the kind of God, God is. These are the things that bring the kingdom of God closer – and the spiritual practices, that give us the freedom to be God’s children, in the image of God. Prayers for our own personal enrichment at the expense of others – sometimes known as The Prayer of Jabez – do not fit into the coming kingdom of God, but instead can only lead us into “the time of trial,” that we pray to be delivered from.
This weekend is the 100th Anniversary of the so-called, Chicago “Race-Riots” of 1919, when after a very hot week in July that summer, some white men brutally killed a black teenager while swimming off a Lake Michigan beach, only because he crossed some unwritten line of segregation. Tensions were high amongst the fearful white communities, and oppressed communities of color, 100 years ago. And when Police were called in – who didn’t arrest the killers, but instead arrested some from the, understandably outraged African American community – all hell broke loose! I’m starting to wonder how far we’ve come, since then?!
No doubt many of those white folk were raised in Christian homes, and perhaps still identified that way, maybe even went to church. But, what kind of God did they pray to?! Was it the God who is our holy other, the God who at the same time is our Abba, our good and benevolent parent? God does not divide us up against each other, or elevate one people over another!
And so finally, let’s let the words of the great theologian, The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, who was both a Mystic, and served as spiritual advisor to Dr. King, and others in the movement, wash over us:
“The human spirit has two fundamental demands that must be met relative to God,” wrote Pastor Thurman. “First, [God] must be vast, limitless, transcendent, all-comprehensive, so that there is no thing that is outside the wide reaches of His apprehension. The second demand is that [God] be personal and intimate. [We] must have a sense of being cared for, of not being alone and stranded in the universe...” he said.
This, is the God we pray to, in the Lord’s Prayer, which then shapes us into the children of God. Lord, teach us to pray. That we may hallow your name, and live our lives for your kingdom, which is coming with love and justice for all.