Monday, 19 March 2018

The Lord's Prayer ~ fresh thoughts and reflections

I like The Lord's Prayer, which I have known and repeated from childhood, but it's only recently that I've thought much about what those words might mean to me on a deeper level.  The thoughts set out here are my own, and are likely to differ from the mainstream.  They draw in reflections which have accrued over many years and make sense to me.  I offer them as what may be fresh view of an old and familiar recital.  


Over the past year I have formed an intermittent practise of sitting quietly for ten to twenty minutes at a time in which I let myself rest in a contemplative way.  I have found this prayer a good focus for that and go though it slowly one phrase at a time.  Often I only get through the first few lines, which on those occasions is quite enough. 

The Lord's Prayer is non-denominational, arguably inter-faith, and collective.  In the text those who pray are not individual but many, hence this prayer is addressed as from a group to God, whoever or whatever we conceive that, him or her to be. 

It begins with the collective statement:

Our Father
Right away that puts me off, and since I got on very well with my own dad my aversion is not to fathers as such.  I prefer to say 'Our Creator', which does not assign gender, and gets us beyond the common archetype of God as the great patriarch, the bearded old man with the staff in his hand, who resides somewhere up in the sky.  There are so many problems with that that I prefer to set it entirely aside.  It has to be said, though, that using this different term can get a bit arduous at times, so I'm not consistent with its usage.


Why do we even think of God as a person?  I suppose that being human it's natural that we should do so.  I imagine that many people with Biblical backgrounds will instantly say that we know this because the Bible says that we are created in his image, therefore... he and or she must be something like a Divine and All Powerful us.  To this I respond that the Bible is a human document written by and for humans, so this is only to be expected.  

One could just as reasonably suppose that since God created everything, that animals, rocks, plants, bodies of water, volcanoes and all the rest of it, are also made in 'his' image, and if these have consciousness in any way parallel to our own, that they may also consider that God is just like a vivid prototype of themselves!  


I like that point of view very much.  Indigenous spiritual beliefs I know of recognise the presence of the Creator or Great Spirit in landscapes, creatures, and in the force of nature as a whole.  


My point of view embraces that, so I see God as being entirely present in Nature, and indeed, equally present everywhere, even in those we consider our enemies.  As humans we are only one small part of creation.  

So for me, 'Our Creator' is a near-enough form of address for the driving pulsating force of life which rolls forward in the great tide of creation of which we are only tiny particles of consciousness which, for a brief period of time, are intertwined with earthly matter.  


So I start again:

Our Creator,
Who art / is in Heaven,
What exactly are we talking about, what is this Heaven?  It is often depicted as a place that is much like Earth but without all the hardships and suffering, nutty neighbours, health problems, workplace madness, squabbling family life, and all the other trials that are so familiar to us all.  Much as I wish to escape these daily annoyances such an existence seems unreal to me and somehow lacking in salt.  Indeed, the prospect of being consigned to such a place fills me with unease!  

So what else can we come up with in the ideas-about-what-heaven-is-like department?

While any ideas of mine must be entirely speculative I have considered what does seem real to me.  If I think of God as the source of everything in the universe, the vital pulsating realm that extends far beyond our perception and whence all creation arises, which also contains all sound as well as complete and utter silence, what is the seat of all this?  In response I think of places like the Niagara Falls, volcanoes, coral reefs, vast frozen wastelands, and all those places which teem with life and life force, either expressed or held in abeyance, and also the intimacy of loving embrace, flowers opening, tiny plants sprouting out of hidden depths...  Reflecting on all of that can be quite overwhelming.  

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It is also a description of life right here on Earth.  This is a nagging worry.  Maybe heaven is right here where we are now, even as we try to escape its hardships.  Perhaps we had better get used to that and take more responsibility for how things are going here, instead of thinking that we are only here for a short while and will sooner or later escape from it into some rosy afterlife.  Whatever the case, all spiritual teachings I have ever come across assure us that the Creator is right here as well as there, where ever 'there' is, so that is a good resting place for my thoughts.  

Being something of a loner my ideas about Heaven are not heavily populated with people.  But if we 'are good' we may go to Heaven when we die, so who else will be there?  Will I meet once more my dear departed parents and friends and greatly missed pets?  And what else will I encounter?  Extinct birds and animals?  That would be great - I'd love to see some of the birds - imagine seeing huia!  But Will There Be Dinosaurs?  Probably they lived blameless lives in their way so...  These thoughts, while engaging in their way, are just a distraction.  I presume that whatever exists in the great beyond is independent of my ideas about it, so my speculation is fairly pointless.  

What is real is that with regard to my dear ones who have died I can still feel the enduring love I have for them and can rest in that, and that's enough.  I actually don't need to know any more, but I do like to dive into what I imagine of those great cosmic generative energies.  And I can visit some of those places on Earth where I can feel that.  A walk on the beach is good!

Hallowed be thy name.
Having considered the immensity and complexity of the universe as we know it, and recognising that even with all our knowledge we know so very little ... how could that name not be hallowed?  Respect! 
Thy kingdom come...
Having planted my feet firmly with relation to the previous three lines this one is easier.  Or is it?  The  simplest response I have for this is: May we recognise that The Force is with us - in our lives and in our world, and act accordingly.
Thy will be done...
What the heck is God's will?  I have no idea, but undertake to do my best to accept what presents itself and to deal with it respectfully.  Beyond that I have my own ideas about what needs to be done and / or should be accomplished, but these are only partial and only my ideas.  Other people's rules on this subject, and especially rules written in books may be useful reference points in their way, but ultimately the infinite variations in our lives are such that we can't have rules for everything and what a horrible situation that would be if we did; we have to work out a great deal for ourselves, and to take responsibility for what subsequently arises.   Further to that many things are way beyond our control, and also the tide of life can carry us far beyond what we ever thought of or wished for, and it may not be what we like.  But relax.  We can't control everything.  For me there is a measure of relief in recognising that.
...on Earth as it is in Heaven.
With this we are back to the Heaven business.  If I take Heaven to be the essential pulsation of life, which includes both order and its collapse into chaos, life and death, matter and emptiness, than I have to accept all these, including the 'good' and the 'bad', as normal.  After all my strenuous efforts, trying to work things out, make sense of things, contribute in ways that matter, I can surrender into that, I can let go - of youth, such beauty as I may have had, health worries, dreams, projects, things I've desperately wanted and strived for, things I got because I fought for them, my little achievements and some of the bigger ones, as well as my failures.  It's okay.  Or I wish it were.  Well, anyway I have to accept that.  The tide of life moves relentlessly onwards.  I am just a tiny part of that great wave.  


Give us this day our daily bread
Food.  We all need to eat.  But for me this is about much more than the food-on-the-table kind of food.  It's about having the strength to get through the day - each day, that night, and then the day after, and then again.  There are times when many difficulties press in on me.  How can I live?  I need nourishment for inner strength and wonder where that will come from when my reserves are empty?  So I open up my inner emptiness and say, this place needs food.  Help me.  Just recognising that I can even ask for this and open myself in this way is helpful.  For which I say 'Thank you'. 

And forgive us our trespasses...
Oh mistakes.  Every day in every way I have made, and will continue to make, mistakes.  Well, often enough!  We all do.  It can be hard to let these go.  My quite usual human fallibility and the humiliation of having messed things up, having to sort out things, often the same sorts of things over and over, can be crushing.  And some mistakes I find myself replaying for years, stupid things I've said and done; not taking enough time, not thinking things through properly, misunderstandings...  Why keep going over them?   I know I'm not the only person who does this.  I do try to learn from my mistakes.  There are people in my past I'd like to go back to and sort things out with, but that isn't always possible.  It's only fairly recently that I've realised that holding onto regrets achieves nothing more than making me stiff and tired in my soul.  The tide of life moves on, carrying flotsam and jetsam with it, and eventually wearing it all back to sand.  


So I do my best to let go and to stop reinforcing mistakes by feeling bad about them.  Instead, I try to send love to all the mistakes and like a mother with a child take up it up to comfort it.  I am that mother and that child.  In my mind God or the Creator is that parent and I am that child.  So I say again, I do my best to let the past go, to let go of the ugliness and hurt both for myself and for others. 

...as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This is the same thing in theory but often very different in practice.  For the most part it is not too hard - broken china, a ding in the car, angry words now and again, but then there are the big ones which aren't so simple: the big hurts, injustices and the shattering injuries so many of us have suffered, and to these I've cried out, "No!  Don't expect me to go there, don't you dare even think it".  And yet... this is what it says: "We forgive..."  Why?  Why should we, why should I?  But in the immortal line from 'Angels in America', "If it's not hard it's not forgiveness".  

For me forgiveness for such injuries is a process, which can take a very long time, in some instances decades long.  I've had a large number of difficulties in my life which were not of my making, which happened to me because of the actions of others who messed up.  Some of them are very hard indeed to forgive, to let go of.  I've been hugely angry with certain people for a very long time.  And yet the task remains.  Loads of people have this.  

At the back of such pain there is this anger.  People say, "You have to get rid of anger".  I disagree.  It is a natural emotion.  All our emotions are natural and part of us.  As with any other difficulty it is paying proper attention to it that is the key.  Our emotions and capabilities can be likened to the pillars in each of our houses of life, each of which contributes to holding up the roof and making the structure sound and balanced: each has its place, all are needed.  In my view anger which is suppressed or not acknowledged is far more dangerous than that which is at least known.  That doesn't mean that we resort to violence, but how can we deal with this danger if we don't know it is there?  Danger is anger with a 'D' in front of it.  'D' is for 'detonate'.  So let's not ignore it, let's get to grips with it and sort it out.  It's there for a reason. 

What is the point of anger?  When things go terribly wrong anger, handled skilfully, need not equate with violence: it can be our enabler, providing us with the energy to assert and defend ourselves and to get out of situations which are harmful; it sets up a firewall between us and the source of attack, and spells out "No further, no more".  The challenge is to pay attention to this, to act accordingly, to get out, get help, take time out, and ensure that safety is restored.  Once this is achieved and we are back on our feet anger can resume a quieter place alongside our other emotions.  

Coming to accept bad things that have happened through the actions or non-action of others can be a long and stony path and take a long long time.  But with time and support new things can arise and these hurts gradually fade into history where they belong.  

At the back of enduring anger with others there is often anger with ourselves, which can include blame that we didn't see the disaster coming, or the fear that perhaps we unwittingly contributed to it, so with the big hurts forgiveness of oneself comes first, or so I've found.  There can be a lot of pain in there.  

For me part of the process of forgiveness can be just sitting with that pain and accepting it.  It begins there.  Paradoxically only after I have finally accepted awful experiences as part of my life have I been able to begin the long path to becoming free of them, and eventually feel forgiveness.  The damage may remain but it no longer binds me in spirit.

People feel these things in varying degrees.  To those who don't recognise this level of hurt, good luck to you.  Any of our lives can change in an instant.  

Back to the prayer:

Lead us not into temptation...
On the face of it this sounds like a plea to our creator to not load us up with more complexities than we can handle.  But why would any creator do that?  More simply, it can be read as an acknowledgement of human frailty.  The way I read this line is this: however competent we are our lives are often cluttered with unexpected potholes, wrong turnings and false promise. I appreciate all the help I can get in seeing the way forward, especially in identifying mirages, and seeing when a pothole or wrong turning is looming.  For me that line must just as well read: "Dear God, please help me see my way, despite my blindness and stupidity"! 

...but deliver us from evil,
Choice of circumstance, however wise or well-informed we might happen to be, often seems to be entirely lacking.  So how do we navigate those times when everything seems stacked against us?  I've tried many things.  More recently I have found it helpful to sit quietly as described and to address my concerns to the Creator, to huff and puff a bit and yet try to be still for a bit, maybe for a bit longer than the huffing and puffing part.  It's something.  There are no big leaps here only small steps, and sometimes it seems no use at all.  But if, with this in mind, I sit quietly enough often enough, maybe once of twice a day, or just potter quietly in the garden, I am at least likely to feel calmer, which is a good place from which to deal with troubles of any sort.  And sometimes, quite often actually, having calmed down I find that insurmountable problems are not that big a deal after all, and much more manageable that I thought.  I think too that life presents us with coincidences more often than might be expected, so I'm on the lookout for those.  

With regard to the threat of evil, which these days seems like a sinister tsunami about to engulf us at every turn my firm conclusion is that the greatest dangers on the planet are human and twofold: unaddressed anger, which leads to vast social and mental health problems, and human complacency, in which so often we do only as much as is necessary for ourselves.  We all need to look out for these, to reach out to each other, and to take responsibility for our part in the whole.  We need to Wake Up.  Right, where's some cold water? 

So in this instance I say, "Dear God, please help us to Wake Up".

Back to the prayer: having dealt with all the rough stuff, it returns to the opening theme, acknowledging our relationship with The Creator, the universe and its magnificence, both personal and impersonal, matter and emptiness, in and out of time...

for thine is the kingdom

the power and the glory

for ever and ever

Amen.

That's quite a journey.  Amen indeed, and thank you for reading.

There are other versions of The Lord's Prayer.  I have linked below to a Maori one which I like very much.  

Here is a link to a Maori version of The Lord's Prayer:
To find other articles in The Rushleigh Chonicles you can click on these links below:
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