I’ve noticed that what we Protestants call the Lord’s Prayer is sometimes called, in the Catholic tradition, the “Our Father.” I have come to like the Catholic title better. I suspect the reason is that the Catholic name announces the prayer’s primary focus and meaning before the words are even begun…Our…
When we address God and use the word “our” there is no escape from God’s beloved community. When we pray this way we invite into our prayer and into our hearts every person claimed by God. Now be careful here. We don’t get to decide what people are included— or excluded. I grew up in a church that felt it had a pretty good idea of where the lines fell. There were the saved and there were the lost, and we felt somewhat entitled to name and identify the lost. I had to give up that game. The beloved community is all those people God chooses to bring together. Only God draws the lines.
When you and I pray, “Our…” we make claim to a community, a family, a connection with countless others. The vision in the last book of the Bible says it like this: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude…” (Rev. 9:6). This great multitude is shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” The model prayer connects us to many, to this multitude, to all persons that God brings into the beloved community.
I cannot pray or hope or even yearn for anything without including the same for all those in this multitude. What I want and need for me I must want for you. Well, I’ve got a list of things I want and need. For starters, I want and need a shelter from the weather. I want it warm in the winter and cooled by fans or AC in the summer. I want my shelter to be free of rats and all manner of insects and bugs. I want and need my neighborhood to be a safe place where I can take my daily walk and not worry about being shot or being arrested by mistake or harassed. I want and need food every single day. I want my food to be fresh and nutritious, balanced with all the essential things that make for health. I want and need water which is clean and clear and free of poison or contaminants. I want and need medical care that keeps watch over my high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol and which includes medicine that I can afford.
And guess what? I have all these blessings and more. Each evening at dinner, before we take the first bite, we join hands and give thanks for the goodness that fills our days. However, each word of thanksgiving must be and is a petition that God will also provide the same for the great multitude, all included in the “our.” It’s pretty simple, actually. All that I wish to claim for me must include you— everyone that God loves, a multitude, great in number and diverse in language, tribe and race. The African tradition of ubuntu puts it this way: “I am” only because “we are.”
Our world grinds slowly forward with the mistaken and idolatrous belief that others around us and beyond us are threats, enemies, competitors. We can allow ourselves to be so afraid of “them.” The temptation is so strong to believe that I am under threat. How easily we fall for the lie that for the privileged like me to keep the comforts and advantages that are so essential and needed, we have to stop others from having. How tempting it is to just take from those who have little to increase our security and comfort because we can. That just doesn’t work in a universe where each of us belongs to one another. We inhabit an “I am because we are” universe.
There is another way: we keep looking and praying and giving and listening and working to make our “I” a “we.” That’s the only path for which life can ever work. Simply said: there is life in no other way than “our” and “we.”