I’ve been pondering the Our Father again. It is well-named the Lord’s Prayer, as there are parts of it that can be prayed whole-heartedly only by Christ himself—or by a person who has taken on the mind and heart of Christ.
When the disciples beg, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1), Jesus’ response is less pedagogical than it is an invitation into his own life. The question, however, is whether or not we really want what we are asking. To consider just one of the petitions: how many of us, if we look deeply into our hearts, can honestly pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”?
With this petition we enter into God’s longing for us to share in the divine life with the entirely forgiving Son. But when Simone Weil describes the ordinary human condition vis-à-vis our debtors, she is brutally blunt:
The effort involved in suffering an offense makes us expect punishment or an apology on the part of the offender; the effort involved in doing good makes us expect the gratitude of the one obliged to us; but these are only particular cases of a universal law of our soul. Every time something goes out from us, we absolutely need at least the equivalent to return to us, and because we need it, we believe we have the right to it. Our debtors: everyone, everything, the entire universe.
(Attente de Dieu, my translation)
The expectations we generally have regarding what life owes us, set alongside the godly expectations God has for us, make the forgiveness requested in this petition virtually impossible on a human level. We are talking about handing over, as Weil says, “all that we are expecting from people and things, all that we believe to be our due”: all of life’s unfairness; all the injustices inflicted on us; all our sorrows in life where there should have been joy.
How supremely difficult, but how freeing!
The Our Father is a prayer of total surrender to the intentions of God both on the individual and the cosmic levels (see especially the first half of the prayer for the cosmic level). Can I truly pray the prayer with my whole being, with an undivided heart? Do I desire what the words say? If so, I am being united with the divine life of Christ. And if I cannot pray it with my whole heart, what then? Shall I stop praying it altogether—this prayer which only Christ can pray?
We do what we can for now with the grace we are given. If we cannot yet pray these petitions with unqualified, flawless sincerity, we pray them as we can, and trust that God accepts our incomplete offering of self, even to the extent of transforming us and the world as we pray, persistently, mindfully, and humbly, the words Jesus gave us.
(See also “The Lord’s Prayer: the Prayer of Prayers.“)
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Image: “Fractal Forgiveness” by Rose Hoover, rc (with the help of Apophysis)