This week’s focus phrase is on the line, “Our Father in heaven …” Many people have struggled with God being identified in gender-specific language, including myself. We’ll wrestle with some of that this Sunday, so I won’t take up space here (But if you’d like to read a story about a time when my biological father became nearly godlike to me – embodying the best of what it might mean to call God “Father,” you can read my post during the Beatitudes series).
Instead, I’d like to share a reflection written by an unknown source that I’ve found helpful when considering the Lord’s Prayer as a whole. I think it makes a fitting introduction to our series:
Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer
I cannot say our if religion has no room for others and their needs.
I cannot say Father if I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily living.
I cannot say who art in heaven if all my interests and pursuits are on earthly things.
I cannot say hallowed be thy name if I, who am called by his name, am not holy.
I cannot say thy kingdom come if I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.
I cannot say thy will be done if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.
I cannot say on earth as it is in heaven unless I am truly ready to give myself to his service here and now.
I cannot say give us this day our daily bread without expending honest effort for it or by ignoring the genuine needs of my fellowmen.
I cannot say forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
I cannot say lead us not into temptation if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
I cannot say deliver us from evil if I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.
I cannot say thine is the kingdom if I do not give the King the disciplined obedience of a loyal subject.
I cannot say thine is the power if I fear what my neighbors may say or do.
I cannot say thine is the glory if I am seeking my own glory first.
I cannot say forever if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
I cannot say amen unless I honestly say, “Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”
A love this kind of reconstruction. This give the Lord’s prayer a more-than-literal feel to it. And the wealth of inspiration is overwhelming. Nice job Professor.
I think you could write a book about the Lord’s Prayer that expands on these ideas…
Eric and other contributors express concern about the Lord’s Prayer, ” with God being identified in gender-specific language”. Throughout a twenty-four year military career and a later eleven year sojourn as a high school teacher gender-specific, gender-neutral, or inclusive language was an ongoing concern. As a facilitator of adult Christian education in our congregation it continues to be. Recent reading of Fr. Richard Rohr’s books, “Falling Upward” and “The Naked Now ” introduced me to Fr. Rohr’s insistence that we must become aware of, and guard against dualistic thinking. He seems to explain that the dualism he cautions us about, took root in our western thinking with the marriage of Greek philosophy and the Christian religion. The idea goes a long way to understanding why Christians who discover the grace full message of the Gospel, proceed to safeguard the message by erecting structures to keep out the Other. Denominations are thus a ‘Modern’ problem with which ‘post modern’ people must contend. I wonder, given the scriptural instances where the Spirit as also equated with ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Sophia’ … if much of the exclusive language might not have resulted from bringing the biblical narrative into Greek and Latin. Language can change radically in a short time. Canada is an English/French bilingual country. In our short history, the French named community of Baie Despoir has come to be known in English as Bay Despair. Sounds similar but the French name properly translated means ‘Bay of Hope’. In John 21: 15-17, Jesus instructs Peter three times, “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep … Feed my sheep.” Reading the same passage in the Peshitta, the Syrian Christian New Testament gives us, ‘tend my lambs for me … tend my sheep for me … tend my ewes for me.’ I wonder if more inclusive language actually underlies the Biblical narrative?
Raymond, you make some excellent points. I agree with you and Richard Rohr that dualistic thinking has been problematic in the Christian tradition (and others). You can’t really get at any of the “big stuff” in Christianity without moving from dual to non-dual thinking. Our Jewish sisters and brothers have a very long tradition of cherishing paradox, which is a great way to move to non-dual mode.
Regarding language, the Hebrews rarely referred to God as “Father,” though God is frequently referred to in the masculine. The Sophia tradition in Israel’s wisdom literature is fascinating, where a strongly feminine figure has many of the same characteristics as Christians equate with Christ as Logos (being with God in the beginning, all things being created through Sophia, etc). Early Christians picked up on this more readily than we moderns. This is particularly evident in the first chapter of John’s gospel.