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 is paralleled in Matthew 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer provides for us at least 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. 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 during less anxious times. It is a calm alternative to feeding a mental frenzy that seeks to undo us.
Rote prayers are also beneficial when we pray with others. When we gather for worship, fellowship, or with two or more, praying the Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful place to begin. It is pretty amazing if we stop to think that we can pray together no matter the age gap with one voice the same prayer that Jesus and the Apostles prayed, all the saints as well as all Christians throughout the ages up until this day.
The Lord’s Prayer with its roots 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 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 alone 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 God. We can continue to take each part of the prayer, especially spending some time with forgiveness which we do not do very well. There are infinite possibilities to explore.
I invite you to pray the Our Father today as if for the first time, slowly embracing each word. As you do so you can also allow memories to emerge from times praying this prayer with others. 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 sometimes remember his voice, his laugh, how he called me “Sergie”.
As we become impatient with this pandemic or while in the midst of sorrow or suffering, we can reach out and pray the Our Father imagining ourselves sitting next to Jesus and the Apostles when they first asked them to teach this prayer. We can experience comfort in realizing that we are not alone. We can call someone living in another state, or country, pray with them or imagine we are with them, or even imagine being with those who have left this physical plane of existence, like my grandfather and JoAnn, who are now where we too will one day be. Another very good exercise is to pray the Our Father by offering an intention for someone we seek to forgive or seek forgiveness from. We can pray for reconciliation and healing.
I invite you to create a quiet place for yourself with a picture, a cross or crucifix, a candle, rosary beads in hand, 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 some deep, slow breaths, and say, “Our Father,” and let God happen!
Photo: My maternal grandfather, Bernard Morcus, who is just about to lead us in the Our Father before a Thanksgiving meal.