Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Avoiding pagan babble

Matthew 6:7-15 (NIV)

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
   on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
   as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
A fitting follow-up to the passage I used for yesterday’s post, though oddly the lectionary reading for Monday had the verses before and after this well-known selection. I’m not sure why the readings are carved up as such, but neither am I a trained New Testament scholar (though I did take one semester of New Testament as part of my undergrad religion minor).

When I pray, it tends to be brief. My new daily ritual, stretching back to mid-Lent, is to pray as I walk to the bus stop each morning. Jack usually is out the door a few seconds behind me, and pretty much always hurrying, so generally I am alone in my thoughts. And I’ve found I can get a better start to my day when my thoughts are more than, “I hope Jack gets to the bus on time.” Sometimes I have Charlie with me, in which case I usually pray out loud in the hopes I’ll imprint some of my thoughts on his developing brain. Sometimes on the way back, I sing a little hymn. When I have Charlie, I usually do not sing out loud, lest I warp his sense of musicality.

The point is, my allotted time is brief. I do not babble on like the pagans. Sometimes I actually worry I spend too much time on the “thank you for another day and this wonderful weather” part, but when I started this in the middle of a faux summer in mid-March, it was hard to step outside into the morning sun and feel anything but gratitude for creation. Even now, the chirping birds make for a spectacular soundtrack.

I close each “bus stop prayer” with the Lord’s Prayer — the way we say it in church Sunday mornings, which is a bit different from the reading above. I guess in a way I feel like it not only provides a natural conclusion, but it gives me some assurance that even if my earlier prayer is somehow insufficient, I can hardly go wrong with doing what Jesus taught. The challenge with something so oft repeated is to make sure it continues to mean something, lest it become just another thing to rattle off, like your home address or Social Security number. I distinctly remember my high school Sunday school class (one of the teachers was my dad) spending a week or two breaking down the components of the prayer. That’s a lesson I could stand to repeat.

On one hand, the Lord’s Prayer is a logical successor to the “God is great, God is good” and “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers, but clearly it’s much more significant. But you have to start somewhere, and in all honesty, I’ve not done a very good job of this with my own kids. Looks like I have a new goal to pursue.

A prayer for May 8:

Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

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