A few years ago, I was sitting up in the stands watching my youngest son, Jude, play lacrosse. Most of the spectators were below me, including a dad who’s younger son was jumping around him in the bleachers. The family is from Israel and the boy kept repeating, “Abba” this, “Abba” that. “Abba, look!” “Abba, what are we doing later?” “Abba, is he winning?” “Abba, I’m hungry!” Perhaps if I’d been younger, or had less kids (and patience) of my own, I would have found his perseverance to distract his dad from the game annoying, but it was cute, made me smile, and ended up prompting some reflection around a kind of sterile daily practice.
“Wasn’t that how Jesus prayed in the gospels?” I thought, as I sat there in the stands (he’d clearly succeeded in distracting me). I recalled Christ’s words when he taught his disciples how to pray, those same words that would become the “Lord’s Prayer” and how in the scripture He began it with “Abba.” It resonated as I watched this kid bouncing around engaging his dad. Eventually I went to my Bible and Google to explore. A few things stuck.
The first was the context within the scripture. As I reread, I noted that Jesus did not say “pray these words” but rather “pray like this.” He also directed what not to do, “in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” How many times had I recited that prayer, not in the relationship context He seemed to imply, but as nothing more than my own empty words? And while there was some debate on the internet about whether Jesus meant to relay the informality of a term like, “Daddy” or not, consensus did exist about His intent to acknowledge a relationship of intimacy.
Never while he was alive – or since- did I call my dad “Father.” And I don’t think I’d ever refer to a friend, no matter how important, as “hallowed, or “thy” either. The experience and follow up of hearing this boy calling his dad prompted me to be mindful of the actual words I had memorized and unfeelingly recited for my whole life. I thought more about what they actually meant, and even began to use my own language to express the sentiments. “Give us this day, our daily bread” became “Please take care of me today” and things like that.
But as I continued to more consistently use my own translation when I prayed in my head, while reciting the official version out loud in church and comparing them, I also became aware of a mistake I had made in my version. I’d changed Christ’s “us”s to “I”s, and in doing so made it about me, instead of all of us collectively, misinterpreting Christ’s universality into my own individual well-being. A subtle but critical mistake, the recognition of which has evolved my faith further. We could use a bit more “we” in this world lately! … Anyway, here it is… not offered as some new translation, but just food for thought…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to give up the one I’ve said every day of my life since childhood. It’s part of my tradition and unites me to a universal faith community, and it’s likely the most recited prayer in world history, so that’s cool – and collective – in itself… but I’m grateful for the boy in the bleachers who got me thinking, and I’m really happy to be more connected when I wake up and before I go to sleep…
“Good Morning Up there” … “Goodnight! Thanks Big You!”
Need a nudge to read this inspiring crowd pleaser?
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