Most any clergy person who has prayed with a dying person will confirm the following as a common experience. On a number of occasions I have stood at a bedside sharing prayers with a family saying goodbye to a loved one who is on the threshold between life and death. When I have invited all gathered to join with me in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the dying person usually joins with us. Rarely are his or her words audible, but invariably their lips move. I expect that scientific research might explain how the familiar is triggered and retrieved from the deepest parts of our brains, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of that moment. Indeed, it only points to the great value of practicing ritual regularly so that it is available to serve us in our moments of need. The universal familiarity of the Lord’s Prayer raises it to the status of being THE prayer that we all use when no other prayer can be remembered.

Annie Lamott says that there are really only two prayers; “Help me, help me, help me!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” We all know how to pray those two. No doubt we started by talking that way to our parents, or at least I hope that we all learned the value of gratitude and not just how to get our needs met. So it makes sense that this prayer encourages us to approach God as a parent. Since not all of us have good relationships with our parents, it is important (as previously bloggers this week have pointed out) not to get too literal in our understanding of the prayer. Still, we can all appreciate how a loving parent cares for a child and rejoice that we are invited to have that sort of relationship with God. So with the caveat about the danger of limiting God to fatherhood, the word that strikes me most in the beginning of this prayer is the very first work, our. God is not just my father, God is also your father. God is the father of all who pray this prayer and even of those who don’t or won’t. The truth is, whether we like it or not, we are all connected. Just like you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, when you pray “Our Father…” you are admitting that you are connected to the entire human family.

Our small town, Brimfield, MA (population around 3000) was hit hard by a tornado ten days ago. The our of the Our Father has become very concrete in these days. It only took seven seconds for Countryside Community Church, UCC (DWB’s mommy) to concretize it in a video that simply said “We are praying for you Brimfield!” The prayers that we know are plentiful for us right now from so many people in so many places are palpable. We feel them when the tears well up, threatening to baptize our cheeks with the blessing. The prayers are also the unspoken presence of an abundance of food, supplies and most especially volunteers which continues to swamp our hallways and rooms here at First Congregational Church, UCC. The great Jewish practical theologian, Abraham Heschel, said of his time marching with others during the Civil Rights marches of the 1960’s, “I felt like my legs were praying.” He was right. When people of any faith or no faith work together to make love real in a hurting world they are indeed praying together to Our Father, who is not sitting back in the heavens, but in that moment breaking in to our lives.

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