Well we’re almost a week into Lent. Think back to the gospel for Ash Wednesday: the good deeds we do for Lent are not to be paraded before others. If we do this we have had our reward since others know the good we have been doing.
In the same way that reading reminds us not to be pray so that others will see us praying because if this is our purpose in prayer, then that is its own reward.
Instead that first gospel of Lent reminded us to go to our inner room, to ‘close the door’ and to pray in that secret place, to be in relationship with God in the alone place where we are most ourselves.
The Ash Wednesday reading then skips ten verses and jumps to an instruction on fasting, reminding us not to make a public show of our fasting but rather to fast in that hidden place, the place of meeting between you and Jesus.
These two scriptures present to us two worlds: an outer world and an inner world.
How easy it is to live in the outer world where things are done for show, to receive the affirmation of others, or to appear successful in the eyes of the world.
But the place where we really seek confidence and peace is in the depth of our being, our heart, our soul. Each day and especially in the mid-night hours we can become anxious about many things: health, those we love, financial worries and an endless list of other anxieties. In the middle of the night when there is no one else to talk to and our day-time escapes are not available, things can get uncomfortable and the night seems long.
But Jesus is there looking forward to that secret conversation we might initiate in that secret and lonely place.
Today’s gospel is those ten missing verses from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel focussing on prayer: when you pray don’t use lots of words, because your Father knows what you desire in the depth of your heart and prayer is the expression of the desire of your heart.
In these verses the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray and he responds: Our Father.
We know well the rest of the prayer, but even those two opening words are a rich prayer in themselves: Our Father.
Let’s begin looking at the word FATHER.
To hear Jesus refer to God as Father was a great shock, even a heresy, to the people of his time since the relationship with God was not understood to be as intimate as the healthy relationship between a father and a child.
But here Jesus is saying Father, even daddy (Abba) in a close intimate way. We are called into relationship with God who is not a distant ruler, but a God who in Jesus is present, with us, in as intimate a love as the relationship between the healthy father and his child.
Now let’s consider the word OUR.
When we pray this prayer we don’t pray “my” Father but OUR Father.
In this first word of the prayer we are reminded that we are not alone. People all over the world in every moment are praying this prayer. We are related to each other because of our relationship with God and are members of ONE family.
This is why we use these words so often to pray for others. We are not alone and even as we pray for others we know too that others are praying for us.
I was moved a couple of years ago to hear a father share that he taught his child to pray this prayer especially in the middle of the night when the child woke and felt sad or anxious.
This father went on to explain that he taught his son this prayer because when he himself was a small child and woke anxious in the middle of the night: “my grandfather told me to pray this prayer, and I did and it works!”
I invite you throughout the day whenever you have a moment to pray the Our Father, Prepare now to take a few moments in stillness and silence and pray slowly, as a mantra, growing to appreciate at a deeper level the beauty of these two words.