Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him,”Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).
Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question is what we typically call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. The longer and more common version are paralleled in Matthew 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer provides for us two basic ways to pray this prayer: as a rote prayer and as a model of prayer.
Rote prayers are those prayers that we memorize word for word. The value in rote prayer is that when we have memorized them, it gives us a good starting point for prayer. How many times do we sit down to pray and not even know where to begin? Starting with the Our Father shows us a way to lift our hearts and mind to God in prayer. Also, during times of stress, anxiety, or trial, having rote prayers at the ready, when we are not able to focus our mind, gives us a natural rhythm that we can access and slow ourselves down. The more we can then be mindful of the words we are saying, adding slow and deep breathes, matched with their familiarity, will assist us in bringing a calm and collected manner which we have experienced in the past having prayed these prayers over and over before during less anxious times. It is a calm alternative to feeding a mental storm that seeks to undo us.
Rote prayers are also beneficial when we pray with others. When we gather for worship or fellowship, or with two or more, praying the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful place to begin. This is where we can pray together no matter the age gap with one voice. This is the same prayer that the Apostles prayed, all the saints as well as Christians throughout the ages up until this day.
I have fond memories of my grandfather leading us in the Our Father before Sunday meals, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or Easter dinners. When I pray the Our Father, I can often hear his voice, his laugh, how he called me Sergie. As I type these words, I can feel him with me and I could write on and on with the memories flooding in, let loose just from reciting the first few words, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”!
Even with a minimalist approach, just saying the words without being attentive to them, can bring some solace. There are worse things we could be saying without thinking. Though the Our Father can also draw us deeper. The practice of praying the Our Father we can apply easily to other rote prayers, like the Hail Mary, Come Holy Spirit, the Jesus Prayer and many others.
The Lord’s Prayer with its root in Sacred Scripture, can also be a key to open the door to a deeper communion with God. As a model of prayer, we pray the prayer slowly, then stop at a word or phrase and then speak freely. Here are a few examples. “Our Father, thank you for this moment that we have to spend together.” From there we can enter into a conversation with God, as we would with our parent, sharing the joys as well as the struggles we are going through. This could take two or twenty minutes or more and we have only recited two words!
“Hallowed be thy name. God you are holy, majestic, so beyond my understanding. How can you be so distant from me, yet you know me better than I know myself?” Again, from there we just enter into a dialogue. We can then, with the first or second phrase go into prayers of petition, bringing our needs before our loving Father. We can offer prayers of intercession, praying for the needs of others with the Holy One who is Love. We can also continue our conversation or just quietly pause and rest silently in the loving presence of our God and Father. We can continue to take each part of the prayer and do the same, there are infinite possibilities to explore.
I invite you today to pray the Our Father as if for the first time, slowly embracing each word. Another opportunity is to allow memories to emerge from times praying this prayer with others. Maybe reach out beyond yourself and pray the Our Father imagining yourself sitting next to Jesus, or someone living in another state, or country, or who has left this physical plane of existence, like my grandfather, that we know and is now where we too will be. Pray the Our Father with someone you seek to forgive or seek forgiveness from, pray for reconciliation and healing.
Create a quiet place for yourself with a picture, a cross or crucifix, a candle, rosary beads, pictures of those you would like to be closer to, whatever sacramental object helps you to turn your heart and mind to God in prayer, then take a deep breathe, say, “Our Father,” and let God happen!
Photo: My maternal grandfather, Bernard Morcus, just about to lead us in the Our Father before a Thanksgiving meal.
Link for the Mass readings for Wednesday, October 10, 2018: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101018.cfm