Sunday, March 7, 2010

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

The first half of the Our Father consisted of three kingdom petitions for God: may we worship you; may your kingdom come; may your will be done. The second half offers four petitions for ourselves: give us our bread; forgive us our trespasses; lead us not into evil; and deliver us from temptation.

All four have in common an acknowledgement of our limitations. We cannot do it alone -- and by "it" we don't mean complicated tasks like working full time and taking care of the kids, or even talking on the phone while we check our email. We're talking the basics here, starting with the ability to nourish ourselves. Think about that -- when was the last time you had to ask someone to feed you? It's as though we're infants again.

And that's the grace to be gotten, that vision of ourselves as fundamentally needy -- that is, not by accident of birth or circumstance but at our foundations. To be human is to be dependent. As vastly different as our circumstances are, at the base we are just like the Israelites in the desert, fed physically and spiritually by God's manna.

In some early versions of the Our Father, the daily bread line could also be translated "Give us bread for tomorrow". And that double meaning is important. As Christians what we're praying for is not only our sustenance today, but about that final fulfillment, the kingdom banquet that the life of Jesus promised and gave us glimpses of.

And not just the life of Jesus; every Mass we celebrate offers that glimpse again, in the form of the communion that we receive together. It's not a coincidence that we say this prayer together immediately after the eucharistic prayer of consecration and almost directly before communion itself.

And there are other glimpses in our lives, as well. Think of a nice meal you shared with family or friends, or an ordinary evening that was unexpectedly rich. It could be a wedding reception or a family occasion; it could just be you sitting by yourself over a dish of pasta and a nice red. But a time where the pieces fell into place and everything felt right. We never wanted to leave the table; we could have danced all night -- they're the moments that you want to take a thousand photographs (but none of them seem to capture what it was we were feeling).

Those are glimpses, too, of the "bread" we seek, the kingdom for which we hunger.