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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lord's Creed

I must say The Lord's Prayer at least seven or eight times a day.

I say it in the morning when I do Morning Prayer. If I see five or six Hospice patients during the day, I usually end our prayer time by saying it with them. I say it at night again when I say Compline.

I confess that I am not always fully present to the prayer when I say it. Many times I say it by rote, repeating the words the way I sometimes say the Pledge of Allegiance at a large gathering.  Or, the Confession of Sin in community during Mass.

Or, the Nicene Creed. Except, I change so many of the words in that Statement of Faith ("God" for "He"; "She" for the Holy Spirit) that I'm sometimes certain I just might be brought up on charges of heresy if someone siting next to me might tape record me while I'm saying it.

I like the New Zealand Prayer Book form of The Lord's Prayer. I think it expands on the ideas and teachings of Jesus in a deeply meaningful way. Problem is, it doesn't trip off the tongue very easily and you can't really say it privately with too many people because it's not as well known.

As much as I like that version, I confess that I have not committed to memory.  Which, I think, says something important.

I've said The Lord's Prayer holding the ancient hand of a person who, just minutes before, couldn't put six words together to make a coherent thought and yet, there s/he is, reciting every word. Eyes closed. Head bowed reverently. Really. Praying.

I've said The Lord's Prayer at the bedside of a dying person, surrounded by family and friends who gulp out the words between sobs and dabs of tears.

I've said The Lord's Prayer with people who have told me that have no faith, or have lost their faith, or confess that they haven't been to church in years and don't know what they believe anymore.

I realized, just the other day, that even more than any of the Creeds, The Lord's Prayer has become a Creed. Interestingly enough, unlike the Nicene Creed, I don't change any of the word. Well, not when I'm praying with a Hospice patient or family. When I say it to myself, I find that I say, "Our Father and Mother, who art in heaven......"

Yes, I use the "traditional" vs. the "contemporary" version of The Lord's Prayer. I don't know why, really, except that while it may be true that familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds comfort.  Solace. A sense of connection with a great cloud of witnesses that have come before and gone on to be in 'heaven' - that eternal dwelling place of God and all of God's creatures.

I have some Jewish friends who tell me that The Lord's Prayer is all the evidence they need to know that Jesus was a good Rabbi. It's a solid Jewish prayer, they tell me, reflecting all of the values that Jews cherish.

Hallowing the name of the one G_d.

Praying for the realm and the will of G_d to come on earth as we imagine it is in heaven, where we will be restored to the perfection intended by God in creation.

Asking only for that which we need to sustain life - daily bread - and to be forgiven the trespasses we commit as well as forgiveness for those who have trespassed against us.

Praying that we may not be tempted to fall short and miss the mark set for us by the One who perfectly created us and even more perfectly redeemed us. And, to be delivered from the evil we know exists in the world because the spark of the potential to do good and evil resides in us all.

Because G_d's realm and power and glory are more important and eternal than our own. 

I don't have to cross my fingers behind my back when saying this prayer. 

I believe what I pray. Unequivocally. 

I don't know that my prayer - this prayer - is always answered. I only know that the answer to the problem of poverty and hunger and injustice and forgiveness come in being cognizant of the existence of these wages of sin by being mindful enough of them to pray about them. And, in trying to live out the words of this prayer.

Yes, yes, I know. Jesus probably never actually prayed this prayer. I remember looking at a Jesus Seminar version of The Lord's Prayer, with the words that Jesus almost certainly said or did highlighted in red; and in pink, words that he "probably" said.

The words in red were: "Our Father......"

That may well be true. It doesn't really matter to me the way it once did, for a few fleeting months whilst in seminary. Then again, the job of a seminarian is to question and challenge and deconstruct everything before putting it back together again for yourself so your theology has integrity.

Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt to cover all the scars.

The Lord's Prayer is what I believe about God and Jesus, the good Rabbi.

This is my Creed. I don't really need the others. I pray it in the power of the Spirit, which I believe is the first gift of the Resurrection.

This is the belief and the faith I am unashamed to express to people who are staring into The Abyss, getting ready to meet the One who created them and is now calling them back "home".

Everything else?

The Virgin Birth? The Crucifixion? The Atonement? The Trinity? The Church?

They're all fine. They're just details.

Which may or may not be important to one's personal salvation.  That's not for me to determine. Especially as the time of death grows nearer and nearer.

What is essential, as the fox once said to The Little Prince, is invisible to the eye.

All I can do is hold someone's hand and give them the reassurance of our ancient faith in God and Jesus and forgiveness and reconciliation and justice and peace.

Indeed, I think the prayer Jesus reportedly asked us to pray may not have been so much our prayer to Him, but His prayer for us.

It's The Lord's Creed.


Marthe said...

If to be a heretic is to register dissent from a dominant theory or opinion, you're in fine company, indeed ... dominance is only power, not necessarily a correct or accurate understanding of, well, anything, much less the mystery of G-d ... and was not Christ a heretic, questioning the law and all the prophets, the pharisees and rabbis and Rome? In His footsteps we might well capitalize the h in heretic just so's the folks will take appropriate notice, don'tcha think? The words said holding the hand of the departing matter ever so much less than the Love in that touch that words struggle to capture or describe or convey ... the new law or rule or commission to love one another in action - that matters.

Sextant said...

You said:

"I don't have to cross my fingers behind my back when saying this prayer."

Brilliant! Absolutely! My firm belief is that all religions are inspired by God and all are corrupted by the human hand.

No one is about to accuse me of being the poster boy for Christianity, but the Lord's prayer, to me, is the part that is inspired by God.

I do have to cross my fingers when I say the Nicene Creed which shouts to me the hand of man...I doubt many women had much say in the creed.

Other than the hardiest of atheists. I can't see most people having a problem saying the Lord's Prayer. It is not really a statement of faith with a lot of terms and conditions, like you would expect lawyers or bishops to write, but rather a plea that we recognize that there is something bigger than our selves operating in the world, we hope that it cares for us, instills in us the golden rule, and protects us from evil. It sounds like something God would have written.

Elizabeth, this was a wonderful post, and if I wasn't so afraid of fire, I would gladly burn with you at the stake...again thank God for liberal secular western democracies.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - Bishop Walter Righter loved his license plate: Heretic.

I want one.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sextant - I'm glad this struck a cord with you. I must caution you, however, that I didn't always think this way. Age and Hospice have a way of bringing into focus that which is important and/or essential.

I just wish some of those in puffed up black shirt and clerical collar would come with me to the bedside of some of my patients. I think it just might soften some sharp edges.

Matthew said...

I also like the interpretive creed in the NZ prayer book. Much longer, like a creed is, I suppose. I wish used it more.

Bex said...

An essay I read once pointed out that there is no "me" in the Lord's Prayer. It's a powerful antidote to current "all about me" attitudes in religion and culture in general.

Laurel Massé said...

Elizabeth, it is the Fox who teaches the Little Prince. Fox, who is skittish and adept at silently disappearing. And who asks the Prince to tame him. Such a lovely book.

And this was a beautiful post, and timely reading for me. I am wrestling with creeds just now. I know it's very long, but can't we ever say the swirling, swooping, reeling, ringing Athanasian Creed? Apparently not. I have read it many times but never once heard it said. I wish...

Mary Lawthers said...

Elizabeth, My husband, an
Episcopal Priest, was the volunteer Chaplin for our local hospice for nine years before he died. He often said it was the most important ministry of his 50 years of ordination. From time to time, if the patient was someone I knew, I would go with him. I can attest that the Lords Prayer always touches people and that those at the end of their earthly life who have a faith in God die with peace. By the way I have used the New Zealand Prayer Book for many years.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think it may take several generations before the NZ version of the Lord's prayer becomes better known. Even so, I'm guessing it will not ever compare in usage to the 'traditional' Lord's Prayer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bex - interesting perspective - one I had not considered. Thanks for that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bex - interesting perspective - one I had not considered. Thanks for that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Laurel - Indeed it is. Thank you. I've changed it. I could see the animal before me and in my mind's eye, it was a wolf. Indeed, it is the fox.

As for the Athanasian Creed, well, I used to try to have it read on Trinity Sunday, but too many people collapsed in laughter in their pew. Sort of defeats the purpose. I think it's more a way to study the church's own evolution about the individual members of the Trinity and the mystery of their unity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mary - Thanks for sharing that wonderful testimony. I remember watching the funeral of Lady Diana when every Christian around the world - and perhaps those who had previously never considered Christ - was praying The Lord's Prayer at the same time. I remember being deeply moved by that.

Sextant said...

"As for the Athanasian Creed, well, I used to try to have it read on Trinity Sunday, but too many people collapsed in laughter in their pew. Sort of defeats the purpose."

I have never heard of this creed.

I have to admit that it is pretty convoluted. After about the 5th round of "this is that but that is not this" I started to understand the Zen concept of listening to the sound of one hand clapping.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sextant - I think, in the dictionary, next to the word "convoluted" is the Athanasian Creed.

Laurel Massé said...

I believe it was Dorothy Sayers who said, of the Athanasian, "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole damn thing incomprehensible."

I still love it, though, for it doesn't pretend that the "whole...thing" can be captured in simple words and short sentences.