After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?
If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.
Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?
Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer:
My father …
Not “our” father or parent. That would make us all equal children of God, including those whom we don’t particularly like — those from another religion, race, country, ethnic background, sexual identity, age group, economic status. Calling God “our” father invokes a responsibility to love and care for everyone as an equal brother or sister. We certainly don’t live that way, do we? We prefer to limit God to our narrow world — our religion, our country, our immediate family. God is my parent, but not necessarily yours.
… feared be your name.
Not revered. That’s what the prayer intends: We revere the God of great compassion and love and social justice by being committed to those divine qualities. Instead, we would rather condemn each other using God as a weapon. We prefer a God who is feared rather than revered.
My kingdom come …
We’ve heard all about God’s kingdom, and we don‘t really like it. Jesus was very specific and emphatic about it. Love one another. Forgive. Love the person you think of as your enemy. Care for the poor and the vulnerable. Visit those in prison. If you have two coats, give one to a person who has none — don’t wait for some charity to help them. See a needy person by the side of the road? Stop and help. Be a healer. Don’t just talk about peace, work for it. Put away all of your weapons — all of them. See money as the evil it is. Don’t aspire to prestige and privilege — those things drag you down. The first are last, the last are first. Give a drink to everyone who is thirsty, food to everyone who is hungry, and do it without ever judging whether they are worthy because God considers them worthy. This is how God’s kingdom works. Look at our society — do we live that way? So let’s stop pretending we really want God‘s kingdom.
… my will be done on earth, and in heaven, too.
A follow-up to the previous point. We don’t want things done God’s way. We’d rather that they’re done our way. And if God sees it differently, then God should change and conform to our values.
Make sure that I get everything that’s coming to me …
Give us this day our daily bread? Really? For starters, we don’t like the “give” part. Sounds too much like charity or welfare or an entitlement program. Makes us sound dependent upon grace. And what about the implication that if one person doesn’t have their daily bread, the rest of us have an obligation to help them get it? That we’re all in this together? Uh-uh. In our world, everyone is on their own. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Work harder. Maybe then you’ll have some bread. And keep your hands off mine. I’ve earned all of it, all by myself.
… and forgive any very, very small and insignificant shortcomings that I may possibly have …
Shortcomings? Well, I suppose I have some. Not many. If I really believed that I come up short, then I wouldn’t be so judgmental of everyone else’s shortcomings. I’d be more accepting and forgiving. I wouldn’t second-guess their decisions or think that they’re simply not good enough.
… but make sure that everyone else is held totally accountable and pays the full price for their shortcomings.
Pretty self-explanatory. And pretty much how most of us feel, isn’t it?
And lead me not into temptation …
Don’t put me in situations that force me to second-guess my certainties. Don’t challenge me to see beyond my self-centeredness.
… but deliver me from everyone else and everything else that I think are evil.
Basically, anyone who is different from me or anything that challenges me.
For mine is the kingdom, the power and the glory now and -- it better be -- forever.
So, what do you think? Doesn’t that conform more closely to what we really believe and how we actually live? Isn’t it more truthful?
Now, some might object to the thought of rewriting this prayer, reckoning that it amounts to blasphemy. But isn’t blasphemy praying one way and living another? Saying the words with no intention of living them?
Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.
Image: Lord's Prayer, Lane V. Erickson / Shutterstock.com
*Earlier type correction.