Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Cool Take on the Our Father

How many times have you said the Our Father? I'm gonna guess, 3 million.  Give or take.

And yet, I don't know about you, but I always feel like when I'm saying it at Mass or wherever, it still hits me, you know? Maybe because it's a bunch of discreet ideas woven together, it doesn't just blow by. Something usually stands out.  Or just the fact of saying it, with my hands out and open, somehow opens me up.  A very unusual experience for a prayer that we say so often.

So, I've mentioned Dan Harrington a couple times in my comments on Matthew. And you might have thought, wow, I didn't know that poker genius is also a scripture scholar.

Different Dan Harrington.  Not the poker genius, this one, the scripture god.

Dan the Man

Truly, he's written great commentaries (including this one that I use in writing these posts), and he's read just about everything. Really.  He's been the editor New Testament Abstracts for, God, ever? And as editor, his job really has been, read everything (everything) and then give a brief summary of it.  Pretty amazing guy. (He's also written a lot of popular spiritual books, like this or this or this. I highly recommend him.)

In considering the Our Father (which occurs in Matthew in Chapter 6), Dan notes that pretty much every phrase of the prayer comes from the Jewish prayer known as the Eighteen Benedictions, or the 'Amidah (from the Jewish root 'md -- "stand up"), and for the most part the phrases fall in exactly the same order that we find them in the Our Father. Jews says this prayer -- while standing up -- three times a day -- and it is a prayer of blessing and supplication.

Now, knowing what we know about Matthew, we can say that this is another moment where he's establishing that Jesus is the fulfillment of Judaism rather than a legitimate reject from it.

But stepping back from that, this insight also affords us the chance to get a glimpse of the sorts of prayers that would have been echoing in the chambers of Jesus' heart on many, many days.  The 'Amidah is a whole set of prayers, too long to print here, but I have included some selections.

If you're looking for something a little different today, try sitting with a couple of them. Read them a couple times, and let them resonate within you.  They're wonderful prayers.  Who knows what new and liberating sounds may be rung within...

Blessed art thou, O Lord,
Our God and God of our fathers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob,
Great, mighty, and awesome God,
God Most High, creator of heaven and earth,
Our shield and shield of our fathers,
Our refuge in every generation.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, shield of Abraham. 

Thou art mighty -- humbling the haughty,
Powerful -- calling the arrogant to judgment,
Eternal -- reviving the dead,
Causing the wind to blow and the dew to fall,
Sustaining the living, resurrecting the dead --
O cause of our salvation to sprout in the twinkling of an eye!
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who revivest the dead.

Thou art holy and thy name is awesome
And there is no god beside thee.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, the Holy God.

Graciously favor us, our Father, with understanding from thee,
And discernment and insight out of thy Torah.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, gracious bestower of understanding.

Turn us to thee, O Lord, and we shall return.
Restore our days as of old.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who desirest repentance.

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned against thee,
Erase and blot out our transgressions from before thine eyes,
For thou art abundantly compassionate.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who forgivest readily.

Behold our afflictions and defend our cause,
And redeem us for thy name's sake.
Blessed art thou, O Lord, Redeemer of Israel.


Pete the Brit said...

I'd never heard of the Amidah before, that is really helpful in some creative writing projects I'm putting together for church around the Our Father.

Thanks :)

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