Reflection on Matthew 6:7-15
~ The Rev. John Forman
My Benedictine brothers and sisters chant, pray, study and contemplate scripture all day and into the night. And the one pericope they encounter more often than any other is this one: The Pater Noster, the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer. It is repeated in different forms from before the sun rises, throughout the day and into the evening. Because they hear or see it or say it or chant it so often, monastics recognize more readily than most of us that when a passage of scripture becomes too familiar or habitual, or mechanically routine or repetitive, it loses its prophetic juice and can become paralyzed. We need to encounter the Living Word in scripture if it is to transform us.
And so, while I appreciate the effort of the folks who worked so hard on the Inclusive Bible version we just heard, their primary intent was to recast gender-based language, which is fine, but the reading is still quite familiar. Several years ago, Neil Douglas-Klotz reinterpreted this text from a Syriac Aramaic gospel in an effort to recapture some of the poetic, multivalent mystery of Aramaic. While we can be reasonably certain that Jesus spoke some version of Aramaic, we cannot with absolute certainty know that these were the exact words that Jesus spoke. Literalism not only becomes less important, it is ultimately impossible because, like its sister languages, Hebrew and Arabic, Aramaic expresses multiple layers, tones and colors of meaning. Aramaic is also rich in references to earthiness, natural cycles and mystery.
So working from an Aramaic text back into English, we can not only hear the prayer more like it may have been heard to First or Second century Jewish ears, the rephrasing can breathe new life into a deeply familiar and treasured prayer. What emerges is a prayer of renewal that connects us to a masculine-inclusive feminist Christ, not simply to a gender-neutral prayer. What emerges is a rebinding to the source of Love that loves all creation—infinitely and unconditionally. I hope that when you encounter this prayer again in the days and months ahead (in fact, we will pray it again in a few minutes!) that the translation I am about to read to you evokes renewed insights, offers renewed healing and inspires renewed devotion. I’ll read it to you slowly so that it has a chance to soak in:
O Birther! Mother-Father of the Kosmos,
Focus your light within us – make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now –
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold
of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us
but free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly – power to these statements –
may they be the ground from which all
my actions are grown. Amen