As we begin our conversation about the Lord’s Prayer this week, I find myself wishing that I could jump in and talk about the larger themes of the prayer. But I can’t, because this week’s phrase — “Our Father in Heaven” — carries so much cultural and theological baggage that must be addressed first.
I wish I could just go straight to, “Oh wow, Jesus was so close to God. He called him ‘Abba.’ We can approach God that way too. We are included in the dance of the Trinity.” I believe all of that is true.
But I can’t get there without dealing with two kind of huge issues.
- God is not male.
- God does not live far away up in heaven.
I’m sure these two statements are not going to rock the world of anyone bothering to read the Darkwood Brew blog. Further, I assume that DB-folks approach Scripture seriously, but not literally. None of you are reaching for your telescopes to look for an old man floating around in the sky.
Still, most churches continue to use this traditional language at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer without any real sense of its metaphorical nature, poetic power, or breadth of meaning. Therefore, the language becomes internalized as literal.
What is the impact of saying, “Our Father in Heaven,” over and over and over in worship, Sunday after Sunday, year after year? What is the impact of making one masculine metaphor the dominant lense through which we name and engage with The Ground of Our Being?
Did Jesus really intend for “Father” to be the only name we use for God? Or are other metaphors (such as those found throughout Scripture) equally acceptable?
If other metaphors are also acceptable, then shouldn’t we at least balance out “Father” with “Mother” as well? Could we start The Lord’s Prayer with “Oh Unexpected Love that has found us?” Or “Holy God of Many Names?”
What does it mean for us to pray to a God who is in “heaven?” This word makes most people think of either the sky or some place you go when you die. Either way, God is far off, looking down on us from a disembodied distance. Somehow I don’t think that Jesus, who declared “the Kingdom of God is among you,” thought God was a remote observer.
Do these traditional words still connect us with God and lead us into deeper love and relationship? Or would a creative re-imagining of some phrases bring us closer to the Spirit in and through which Jesus prayed?
Look, I know that messing with the Lord’s Prayer is absolutely unthinkable to many Christians. These words have been prayed by followers of Jesus for thousands of years. There is a richness to that; a connection with all the saints of the past.
I am not suggesting we stop using the Lord’s Prayer. I am simply suggesting that some of the words of the prayer need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully examined and perhaps reinterpreted.
Jesus once challenged those whose strict observance of Sabbath had become so constricting that it did harm rather than brought life. He said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” I wonder if today Jesus might say, “I prayed this prayer as a model to help you connect with God, not to be a barrier or stumbling block. These words are to serve you; you are not enslaved to them.”
Words matter. Words that we recite repeatedly matter even more. They shape us and change us in ways we can not fully understand. We should choose our words about God with care.