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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 trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

I had to smile when I read Lori’s post, “No Trespassing . . . Violators Will be Forgiven.” The community where I live is very Catholic. Whenever a group says the Lords Prayer, you sense some hesitation. “Forgive us. . .” and then the pause. Which will it be, debtors or trespasses? We Presbyterians say “debtors” while our Catholic neighbors go the trespasses route.

I’ve always wondered why my Catholic neighbors use one word and we Presbyterians use the other. I know it isn’t a Protestant Reformation issue because my Lutheran friends also say “trespasses.” So what’s the deal?

The Lord’s Prayer or, as Lori calls it, the Our Father is found in Matthew (6:9-13). Apparently in the original, and I say apparently because I have never read the original Greek, the word is opheiletes which is translated as debts. This doesn’t necessarily mean money but can also mean anyone who owes you because they have wronged you.

The word trespasses comes into play in verse 14 which includes the Greek paraptoma, which translates as trespasses. Those of us who read scripture and other early religious texts in English are always working from translations and that is something we cannot forget. As soon as we start to look at who translated what when, we see a volley back and forth between debtors and trespasses.

1395 Wycliff made the first English translation of the Bible. He used debtors.
1526 The Tyndale translation followed and he used trespasses.
1549 Book of Common Prayer still used trespasses.
1611 And with the King James Bible we are back to debtors.

Which word is better? On the surface, they mean slightly different things. Trespasses means, as Lori discussed, having crossed a line that may or not be clearly marked. Debtors implies that someone owes you and hasn’t settled the debt.

Initially, I would have said that last part of debtor’s meaning is vital. They haven’t settled the debt. Perhaps they haven’t acknowledged it. Perhaps they deny it. No matter. Christ himself told us to forgive them. Yes, we want them to come clean but there’s no point in waiting. We’ve got our marching orders.

But then I reread Lori’s post:

That’s what makes the surrounding part of the prayer so sweet: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes. It means that we are forgiven our trespasses, intentional and accidental. It also means that we forgive our trespassers — even those who don’t know they’ve trespassed, who didn’t see the line, who don’t realize they’ve stepped on metaphorical private land. You know, the ones who step on our hearts.

Not that different after all. And yet these word games can become all important in separating one set of believers from another. Why do we let that happen? Fortunately, God has already promised to forgive us our trespasses even as he commanded us to forgive our debtors.



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.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory forever.

Still one of my favorites…

I’m experimenting with a new way of reading scripture: You (or, preferably, several people) read a passage aloud four times, listening to it in a new way. For instance, what word or words jump out at you? And what does this passage say that’s relevant to the world today?

I’ve taken this approach with the prayer known as the “Our Father.” And what leaps out at me, repeatedly, is the word “trespass.” Note: The word is not “sin.” Not “transgress,” “err,” or “do wrong.” Trespass. Now that’s a word I associate with tersely worded signs denoting land rights and possible encounters with angry, shotgun-wielding homesteaders, not morally hurtful behavior. Trespass. It means going over the line, encroaching. It’s so much less tangible than “sin.” How do I know I’m trespassing if I can’t see your emotional property line?

That’s what makes the surrounding part of the prayer so sweet: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes. It means that we are forgiven our trespasses, intentional and accidental. It also means that we forgive our trespassers — even those who don’t know they’ve trespassed, who didn’t see the line, who don’t realize they’ve stepped on metaphorical private land. You know, the ones who step on our hearts.

That’s no easy promise. And yet God freely provides that forgiveness to us…all we need do is ask! Of course, our trespassers might not respond in kind. They might not ask us for forgiveness, but that’s part of what forgiveness is. It is reconciliation that is mutual; forgiveness is one-sided: I forgive you, though you may or may not accept my forgiveness. That’s really putting yourself out there. That’s taking a dive without knowing whether the relational swimming pool will be full of water or sharp, pointy rocks. Pretty scary stuff.

Yet we say the prayer blithely, little recognizing the import of each loaded word. So here’s a challenge: The next time you pray the Our Father, listen to yourself. Can you commit to forgiving your trespassers, or will you go after them, rifle in hand? Forgiveness, we assume, is easy for God. But asking for forgiveness requires that we be willing to take down our own fences, to do the difficult (for us) thing. And that’s just one of the challenges of the Our Father. No wonder, then, that it is the only prayer Jesus gave us. It is, on examination, more than enough.

I’m still trying to bloom into public prayer (photo by SueBE)

I’m sure you’ve known someone like this – when they pray in public, they PRAY. They wax eloquent and they often have quite a bit to say.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

For some time, I’ve felt that I need to learn to pray in public, but prayer for me is very quiet and very personal. Praying out loud in front of other people is just about as comfortable as public nudity. Note: I am descended from Puritans; that should tell you all you need to know about the nudity issue.

What does this have to do with another person’s prayerful eloquence?

I am, in one word, intimidated. Even when I pray in private, my prayers are brief. I praise, I thank and I plead. And, in just about that many words, I am done. After I hear someone wax on, I find myself more reluctant than ever to pray in public. I simply cannot do it as well as she does.

I’m not envious – I feel sure of this because I don’t want to do it her way. The problem is that I’m judging myself. I see her way as good and right and anything that I might pull together is, in comparison, woefully inadequate.

Not that I believe that this is God’s judgement. He made me. He knows I’m short spoken. That isn’t what I feel called to change. What I need to change is my unwillingness to pray in public.

Step one? Convincing myself that my brief prayers are ok. But I think I’m on my way. This week, I’ve noted several brief prayers that other people have cast up:

They are all short and sweet and to the point. And they speak to me. Certainly if those who are so eloquent can offer up brief prayers, I can do the same.

Step two? Convincing myself that I can do it in front of others.



Please don’t let me be intimidated
by the prayerful eloquence,
imagined judgement,
or simple presence of those around me.

Let me offer up my words,
brief as they may be.
In so doing I can help
another move closer
to You
even as I move closer myself.



A friend of the great and good Thomas Merton once told him that all he had to do to become a saint was to ask for it out loud, and the grace of God would do the rest. My thoughts are more along the lines of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, who said (I paraphrase) that there is no great trick to becoming a saint. You simply do all the ordinary things you usually do, but you do them with love. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? One of my role models, Sr. Denise Wilkinson, tried to follow this mantra for one week. It was exhausting, impossible.

I don’t want to be a saint, but not for the reasons one might imagine. — like a propensity for wine, (wo)men and song or sex, drugs and rock & roll or any other of a variety of vices. I may also be the only person in America who does not want to win the big jackpot at our local Native American casino, because those that do are obligated to appear in a commercial bragging about their fortune. Let me be clear: I don’t want to win the money not because I don’t want the money, but because I don’t want to have to appear on television. Give me my Dickensonian turret. I would rather remain anonymous. That’s my problem with sainthood, too — too much fame. I don’t deserve it, and I don’t want it.

This is not to say that I don’t aspire to higher things. If it is true that all we need do is to give our deepest wishes a voice (à la The Secret), then I wish for something more substantial than fame: I want God to be the center of my life. Again, this is not an easy thing.

Sometimes I feel like I not only fail in doing ordinary things with love, but that I fail to do them with any sort of conscious mindset at all. I cook, I clean, I work, often in a sort of concentrated daze…I remember little of it afterwards, as if the tasks were committed, and my life lived, in an alcoholic blackout. I do them by rote. I get them done. But not with intention, not with feeling. And if God is the center of my life, then my life deserves constant attention and passionate intent. I am not there yet.

But I will put it out into the universe anyway: God, I want you to be the center of my life. Let all else fall away. For if you, if love, is the center of my life, then I have everything I need. Even a saint would agree with that.

Something small, even a single cluster of flowers, can have a big impact. (Photo, SueBE, Missouri Botanical Gardens, 2012)

Ever since Lori wrote her post about finding our Mission in life, I’ve been thinking. What is my MISSION? It sounds so big. So important.

The problem is that I don’t feel like I’ve got something this monumental going on. Have I missed my Mission?

Then I saw this quote from Mother Teresa. “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Let me repeat that. Small things with great love. It bears repeating because many of us underestimate the value of these small gestures.

Recently, we had a new singer join our church choir. As talkative as I can be, I am an introvert. When I’m not in the mood for people, I’m really not in the mood. Sadly, her first night there was one of those nights. I’d arrived early, looking forward to a few quite moments, but she was also early. With a sigh that was mostly in my head, I managed to make chit chat and welcome her to the group.

Choir isn’t all work. We take our music more-or-less seriously, but we also love to laugh and are always kidding around about something. In one of these moments, our new singer made eye contact. Should she laugh or shouldn’t she? As soon as we connected, she broke into a huge grin. She was, after all, a part of the group.
All it took was a little chit chat and our usual inability to be serious for very long. None of it huge, but big enough to keep this teen coming back to us on a weekly basis.

Small gestures can mean a lot. And so, I repeat.

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Small things add up to make a great impact in the lives of those who need to feel God’s love.


66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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