Thou, our and thy but no me, my and I

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
For thine is the kingdom, the power and glory
Forever and ever, Amen.

So reads the Lord’s Prayer or the ‘Our Father’ as I learned it as a child. It was not so much a single prayer that Jesus taught his disciples but a way of praying (see Matthew 6:9-13). Nevertheless it is a much-loved Christian prayer that has been prayed hundreds of billions of times.

I was using it as a way to guide my praying in the middle of the night recently, pausing on each phrase and thinking and praying around its intent, when something simple and profound stopped me.

I realised, as I must have already known but forgotten, that there are no I’s or me’s in the prayer. The only pronouns refer to God (thy/your) and us or our.

Which reminds us that the heart of prayer is to focus on God and to see ourselves as part of a community. Prayer, and the Christian walk, are not solitary occupations.

When Jesus taught prayer he lived and moved with 12 disciples and numerous other close followers, both men and women. He visited homes and families and turned strangers into friends. He called out to God as father and sought not his own will, ‘but your will be done’.

For this reason, it was natural he would prayer ‘our Father’ rather than ‘my Father’ and ‘give us’ daily bread and forgiveness and guidance, not ‘give me’.

The one time he did cry out ‘my God, my God’ was when doing something unique – carrying the world’s sin and shame solely in his own being on the Cross. How lonely he must have been to do so. Perhaps we too are more inclined, but from a less holy position, to focus our prayers on ourselves when we feel lonely, isolated and despairing.

Maybe the antidote is not more self-focused prayer, but to break out again into community and find the reality of praying ‘our Father’. PH

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