Two Noticings about the Lord's Prayer

Lately in praying the Lord’s Prayer during lectio, I’ve noticed two things.

The first is about the meaning of “hallowed be God’s name.” Usually this passage reminds me turn towards a spirit of reverence. But the context of “hallowed” is calling God Abba (Father, Parent of all creation, loving source of all existence).

To call God ‘hallowed’ thus doesn’t mean only to remember that God is other, set apart, absolutely unlike anything in this world. It also means that God’s holiness is at core good in a way we can fathom: as a parent who wants us to flourish. To call God ‘hallowed’ in the Lord’s Prayer is to insist at the same time that the name of God is not to be used to justify or rationalize anything that diminishes us.

The second thing I noticed is that the Lord’s Prayer is largely petition, but there is one thing it names as being within our power to do. The prayer takes us through requests for our survival and well-being — for bread, for protection from temptation and evil, for forgiveness of our sins. It takes us through a request that looks oddly like commands TO God, in petitions that we might align ourselves with God’s ways:  “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  But the prayer also tucks in one acknowledgement of a power that we ourselves CAN wield:  to forgive.  “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Thought about this way, the Lord’s Prayer is in some measure a sharply focused command to forgive one another. Precisely because most of the prayer encourages us to ask God for many things (even for the fullness of God’s Kingdom), precisely because the prayer names our needs and wounds so baldly (noting that others sin against us), the one singular thing that lies within our power to do shines out brightly.

The grammar of this acknowledgment is interesting, though. “Forgive us our sins, AS we forgive those who’ve sinned against us.”  We all know that forgiveness is something that doesn’t always feel within our power to do emotionally, even if we can in prayer frame our perception of one who sinned against us in a way that isn’t wholly defined by their having harmed us. Yet there’s something mirror-like about the gesture of being forgiven by God and, at the same time, forgiving a fellow human being for his or her sins against us.  The two gestures are in sync, and we’re being asked to orient ourselves towards this truth, every time we say this prayer.

Just as there are times when we pray that God is hallowed even on days when suffering and injustice seem to prevail, so too there are times when we name our own grace-borne power to forgive others even when that forgiveness takes the nascent form of knowing that “enemy” never adequately, fully, or ultimately defines one human being to another.

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