In Christianity, there is a prayer given to us by Jesus. It’s called the “Lord’s Prayer” by some, but I hear it called the “Our Father” in Catholic circles, and so that’s what I call it here. Just so ya know.
Not last weekend (Halloween/ All Saints Day), but the weekend before, I lost my voice after valiantly fighting a cold with things like tea and warm, furry scarves (probably helpful) and parties that lasted until 2 a.m. (probably unhelpful). (I am so old. 10 p.m. bedtimes forever. Unless it’s 9 p.m.)
Not last weekend but the weekend before, after a late morning and a later flight, I ended up in the far-side pew of the last-chance mass 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday night. (Long distance = so glamorous. Cough). At this point, my vocal chords were a gravel-ly mess of tangled and muddied yarn. But, I was by myself, sitting alone, and I was like, “I just won’t pray the prayers or sing the songs. I’ll just sit here and not-die.”
So, the mass is celebrated around me. The little altar boys played around with fire and candles, as they love to do; a young woman led the hymns; a balded man played the organ. This is the church life I know. An accented-priest gave a homily that I drifted in and out of, because I was tired and a little distracted and his accent was hard to follow. But, I tried.
Then: the collection baskets were passed around, but I averted my eyes using a hymnbook I sure as heck wasn’t using to sing.
Then: the Eucharistic prayer. Beautiful, as always.
Then: the Our Father.
And, I hadn’t really been audible the entire time, you know? Because singing was out of the question, and the few prayers I joined, I joined in a whisper. So, I was sitting there, listening to the Our Father.
And I thought to myself: what if I had never learned the Our Father?
Now, it’s not one of my favorite prayers, necessarily. It’s kind of clunky, not too poetic or soft. But, what if I had never learned it?
The Our Father is, at this point, as much a part of me as my father’s first name or that I watch fireworks every Fourth of July. Actually, scratch that. At this point, the prayer is more than even those, because I only watch fireworks in July, but I pray the Our Father first thing every morning and sometimes in my car and then again at mass and sometimes at night, in a halting, sorry Spanish. Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo…
In some ways, it comforts me, the natural rhythm of the language. But, it also reminds me of so many things that I take for granted: I have a heavenly Father. And “Father,” mind you, not just a heavenly slave driver, playing with my life like as if it is just that of a meaningless pawn. And He is holy. And so on and so forth. The words roll over and over in my mind, sacredly bound together and given to us by Jesus himself.
The church I went to as a child has been closed for a few years. I watched my brother be baptized there. I received my first communion, my confirmation in that square building. My siblings and I played in the athletic fields surrounding the church our entire lives. Soccer, baseball, kickball…everything.
On Sundays, we would walk as a family to church through those fields, through the stalky, white Queen Anne’s Lace and the blue-purple chicory and the rosy pink clover.
One winter my siblings and I burrowed through the snow drifts with our then-neighbors, Jack and Adam. We built a series of intricate tunnels, but because we didn’t know how to engineer well, one of our tunnels collapsed and then, in shocked silence, we went home because we realized the danger of getting trapped under feet of snow.
One time, in the summer, we took our guinea pig to the field, thinking she would love the expanse, but she didn’t, she bolted to find shelter, because she was a guinea pig.
A few winters back we went and built giant snow-people with our friends and Josh got a cold because he didn’t bundle up enough and he complained about that until we laughed at him.
And, a few weeks ago, some heavy machinery came and dug up all of the athletic fields and knocked down the church and the school and tore apart the trees and the bleachers and the parking lot.
So, now what?
Well, on one hand: who cares? I hadn’t gone to church there in years, I go to a different church. I never went to school there. There are other fields to explore, other grasshoppers to catch.
But, it’s odd to look straight through the fields and hear the roar of the freeway, previously blocked by the buildings.
In some way, that’s the closest thing I can compare these thoughts of never learning the Our Father. Like, now there is a giant mud-hole where a field full of children playing used to be. If I didn’t know this prayer, I probably wouldn’t know to miss it, but, without it, the experience I call “my life” would be less beautiful. Without it, somewhere in my depths of being, there would only be a muddy hole where there could be happy summer-screams in the sunlight.
The movie “Frozen” is kind of a big ol’ cultural deal these days. If you have not heard of it, you probably also have never heard of this blog because you live somewhere removed from radio and commercial imagery and internetz, so I think I’m safe saying most people have heard of it.
La la la, saw it. I guess I’m cool now. Or something.
Just kidding. Whatever.
ANYWAY, the original “Elsa” was the “Snow Queen” of ye olde fairy tales. Do you know the story? I read it once when I was a child, in a dusty old book.
It’s kind of long and there are many characters and thematic elements, don’t let me bore you. The main reason this ties in is because, in the story, the Snow Queen is an evil lady who steals a little boy away to her frigid world. The little boy’s childhood friend, a little girl, comes to save him and it is literally because she knows the words to the Our Father that she is able to do so.
What the what. Who knew?
And that recollection reminded me of the part in MacBeth when, after MacBeth kills the king, he whispers to his wife that he could not complete a prayer, which really drives at MacBeth and let’s just say that that play doesn’t end as happily as The Snow Queen does.
I don’t know why this is important, it just seems that it is. Like, even in our lore we are reminded: hey, guys, these words are blessed and sacred…and very, very important.
I take circus classes with people who I love. I love them because they are friendly and encouraging. But, I don’t know about their lives, you know? I pray for them, sure, but it’s not like I know about their families or their dreams or their fears.
This week I have been thinking about them by face, these people: do they know, I wonder, how to pray the Our Father? Do they know that there is a Father who loves them, from heaven? Do they know to entrust him with their needs? Do they know that He is good and wants their best?
What about my friends who don’t profess faith? Do they know these things? I wish, so badly, that they do.
Do you have family members who have left the church? Probably. Most people do. What about them? Do they know how to pray when things begin to spin out of control? Are they aware of God’s desires for them? Do they know the Our Father?
Does this not begin to tear at you, too?
I have a friend (a priest) who went to a country where religion is really oppressed. (Vague-city, I know. But, it must be done, for safety).
He met with Christians in a rural town, these Christians gather together every night to pray the rosary.
I’m consecrated to Mary in a country where I can worship whatever I want and I don’t even do that.
And the oppressed-country Christians heard he was there, my blessed friend, and they so excitedly begged him to talk to them about the faith.
He has a giant, loving heart, and teaching is one of his gifts so he asked them, “What do you want to learn?”
And they said to him, “Anything! Teach us anything! We don’t know anything about the faith.”
Because in said-oppressed country, they had no access to teaching materials or scripture or anything like that.
So, he told them the sacred stories behind the mysteries they gathered to pray every night–stories of the angel appearing to Mary, Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other as fetus-John bounced happily, Jesus joining us here on earth, the angels/ the shepherds/ the wise men, Simeon and Anna…all of the beautiful truths we take for granted, so, so for granted. He told them the stories of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary only, I believe. Five stories about Jesus. I think to myself, they will never be the same. Think of how they will retell each other those stories, at night when they gather, reminding themselves orally of these truths. Think of how they will teach their children, telling them of the night the American priest told them more about Jesus.
Thing is, my priest-friend will never be the same, either. And, hopefully, neither will I.
Think of this–the faithful in oppressed countries, risking their lives every night to pray the rosary about stories they don’t even know.
It tears at you a bit, doesn’t it?
I once went to a mass where the priest talked about the saints. This isn’t so uncommon, I guess. But then he said: think, too, that the saints didn’t exist in a vacuum. Someone taught the saints their prayers, told them the story of salvation, instilled in them a love for Jesus and truth and holiness. Who taught them those things? Parents? Godparents? Which priests heard their confessions, gave them communion, baptized them?
I know that the community of faith is vital to any person’s spiritual walk–why would the saints be any different?
Today was unexpectedly perfect in Detroit–76° and sunny–so I wrote to my friend and said, “Do you want to go on a photographic lunchtime adventure?!?!”
And he said that he did, so we walked through Detroit taking pictures (using them in this post) and then ate lunch looking over the river. We talked about Catholicism in our city, I waved at Canada, we threw away our trash and headed back to the office.
As we walked back I mentioned to him about all of these thoughts. He walked silent for a bit, and so did I.
Then he talked about how the Our Father is the first prayer he ever thinks to pray, it’s his “go-to” prayer, in his words. Then he mentioned that he wandered from the faith a bit in high school, and, in that time, he has forgotten some of the prayers he once knew.
In my mind, I saw the dark hole now taking up the field by my parent’s house.
We wondered about our friends and family who don’t practice a faith anymore–do they know the prayer? Maybe? Maybe if someone prayed it with them.
I thought to myself, “I hope they know it.”
But, maybe “hope” is too strong of a word for this fragile situation? I guess I can only wish that they do. I wish that everyone would have all of the truth that I do, all of the beauty…and then some.
And, in the truth and beauty that is Jesus/ goodness/ light is a sacred prayer that talks about Our Father. Who art in heaven. Hallowed be His name. May His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May he give me, today, my daily (gluten-free!) bread and forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. And may He lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.