July 28, 2019
St. Andrew’s, Marianna
The Rev. Canon Renee Miller
“How to Pray, Part 3”
So, what’s the first thing you think of when I say the word prayer? Yes, I know. You’re getting tired of this question. But, I’m trying to get you to dig deep within to see what you really think about prayer. Do you pray (outside of church, I mean)? Why do you pray? What do you say when you pray? Do you think you should pray more? Do you feel guilty when you don’t pray? Do you pray grace at meals but leave the main work of prayer to others? Do you wonder if prayer works? When I asked the first week “What’s the first thing you think of when I say the word prayer?” the answer was: “The Lord’s Prayer.” Then, when I asked the same question last week, Susan popped up with the little prayer I taught you, “God, help me trust in your love and care.” So, I’ll keep asking the question because there is so much associated with it.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve introduced the concept of prayer is about being aligned with God more than it is about fixing problems. You and God are reduced to a single straight line, no matter what’s happening externally in your world. And I gave you a short, easy to remember, prayer as a way to begin. I suggested that you pray “God, help me trust in your love and care,” several times a day. Have any of you practiced with that this week? Any sharing you want to do about that?
While you may think that such a short and simple prayer could not possibly be effective in reducing you and God to a single straight line, a small practice such as this, can be incredibly transforming and powerful in the alignment process.
I just finished with physical therapy on Friday, and my therapist made this same point with me regarding the therapy exercises and my response to them. She talked about the central nervous system and how introducing a very small targeted exercise causes the central nervous system to send out warning alerts— danger, danger, something new and different is happening. The body does the exercise, but pain may be experienced afterward. When several different small exercises are introduced, the normal response of danger, danger is interrupted and gradually the body strengthens, and the pain response decreases. In other words, the body and the central nervous system become more aligned — reduced to a single straight line. And it all starts with something very small. So even a small short prayer such as “God, help me trust in your love and care,” can be a powerful tool for bringing you and God into alignment.
Today we’re going to work with the Lord’s Prayer since it so fortuitously, showed up in our Gospel reading today! Spoiler alert! Note that it’s more like the one on the right-hand side of the page of 364 in the BCP, which we tend to think is the contemporary version, but is actually the more ancient version. So if, when you pray, you pray the Lord’s Prayer, is it because it means something particular to you? Does it feel comfortable because you know it and don’t have to try to simply think up something like a Baptist? Does it make sense to you? Let’s hear it again from today’s Gospel:
“God, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
Some of it makes sense. We know we want our food every day. We want to be forgiven and we try to forgive others. But we may not be so sure about what hallowed be your name means, or your kingdom come, or not being brought to the time of trial. We may not see how these things are of much help to us in our prayer or our life.
So, we’re going to start taking apart the Lord’s Prayer so that its small chunks can be used in the same way as the prayer I’ve already given you. This will also give you more understanding of the particular prayers within the Lord’s Prayer, so you are more aware of what you’re praying when you say it. And you don’t need to say the whole prayer at one time because it’s several short prayers rolled into on big prayer. And, remember what I said last week that being holy doesn’t require heroic effort. All it requires is you and God being reduced to a single straight line (being aligned) and that happens by regularly coming into God’s presence. Short prayers will get you there.
“God, hallowed be your name,” is the first prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. The real sense of this part of the prayer is that God is Other. God is in us but is also Other than us. The fact that God is Other, is what makes hope and faith possible. German philosopher, Karl Marx said that ‘religion is the opium of the people.’ Marx meant that people use religion like an addict uses drugs - to escape the troubles of the world rather than relying on themselves to successfully navigate their way through those troubles. There is some truth in his words. Religion and God can be used as an escape from the troubles of life, for sure. At the same time, for people of faith, religion is not something that relieves us of responsibility for our lives or gives us a way to avoid the life challenges we all have. Rather, it assists us to deal with the problems of life precisely because we know that the Other (God) is there with us. So when you get a flat tire, on your car or in your body or in your relationships, praying “God, hallowed be your name,” affirms that the Other is with you and you gain the courage and fortitude not to escape the flat tire but to buckle down and change it. God the Other, is our refuge and strength who helps us navigate the twists and turns of life but doesn’t keep us from having them.
The word hallowed comes from the root word kailo meaning ‘whole,’ ‘uninjured,’ ‘complete.’ God is whole - we are not. We work toward wholeness of mind, body, and spirit, but I think we can all agree that we have not yet achieved perfect balance, perfect wholeness. God, on the other hand, has no incomplete, injured, still being formed, still in process parts. When we pray “God, hallowed be your name,” we’re affirming God’s wholeness. In the very act of recognizing God’s wholeness, we are lured to become more whole ourselves.
If I watch a YouTube video on how to lose weight and the person doing the video has successfully lost 25 pounds in the last couple of months, I will naturally want to know what I need to do to lose weight myself. I will be motivated to move toward weight loss so that I can be like the person I see in the video. In the same way when we say “God, hallowed be your name,” and become aware of God’s wholeness, it motivates us to want to move toward wholeness within ourselves.
How then can you use this prayer, “God hallowed be your name,” to move toward wholeness? Let’s consider some examples that affect our emotions, our mind, body, or spirit. Your crazy family member calls to say they’re coming to visit. “Oh ____,” you say! Immediately, their previous visits come to mind. They are on a special diet, that requires special meals; their spouse never stops talking; they always stay too long; and they eat all the food but bring nothing to share. You feel you really can’t say no, but you just don’t want them to come. Well, what’s happening here is that your emotions aren’t whole. They are scattered about with previous experiences with these family members and you’re applying those to this new visit. But instead of cursing, try instead praying “God hallowed be your name.” For those seconds, you will be aware of being in God’s presence, and you will find that your emotions are less scattered and you will breathe a little slower and maybe, even, feel a little more whole.
Or, let’s say you’re having a stressful day. Too many activities, too much running around, you don’t know if you’re coming or going. Your body is out of sorts and your mind is tired trying to keep up with it all. All you want to do is have a drink or take a nap. Try praying “God, hallowed be your name.” For those few seconds, you will be aware of being in God’s presence, and your body will calm down and your focus will become clearer.
Or, you get bad news from your doctor even after you and your friends have been praying for a good result, and your soul feels battered and tattered. If you pray, “God, hallowed be your name,” you will, for those few seconds, be aware of being in God’s presence. And in the space of those seconds, you will find a measure of peace.
In all these situations that involve emotions, body, mind, and spirit, 5 little words have the capacity to completely alter you. 5 little words have the capacity to bring you into better balance with yourself and with God. 5 little words have the capacity to help you and God be reduced to a single straight line. And that, — is the goal of prayer.
With one part of the Lord’s Prayer, then, you can affirm God’s Otherness and God’s wholeness and be brought into a space where you desire wholeness for yourself. “But,”you may be asking yourself, “How is this going to do anything about my prayers of need? What good is it to pray ‘God, hallowed be your name when the crops fail, or when my children can’t get along, or when illness is crippling me or my loved ones, or I can’t find a job, or I’m dying. What good is ‘God, hallowed be your name’ then?” It may not make all those problems I just mentioned go away but it will give you courage to get through them because you know for certain the Other is with you. It will help you become more whole and balanced so that you are able to stay steady and grounded — having a sense of clarity and the ability to maintain your inner peace even when the problems are beating you down. And, that is really a better answered prayer than having the problem you’re in fixed. A fix is a temporary solution. Once that particular problem is solved, another will slip in and take its place. But if you are grounded in God, you are free — and if God the Other is with you, you can live without fear. I’d say that’s a pretty good result. “God, hallowed be your name.” Amen.