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Recently, our minister discussed the Lord’s Prayer during our service.  He specifically discussed the passage that I’ve highlighted below.

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.
Amen.

He explained that when Presbyterians say the prayer, we say debts because it is the closest translation of the Greek word.  You’ll have to forgive me for not going into the Greek because although he reads Greek, I do not.  The word sinners doesn’t appear until several verses after Christ gives the disciples this prayer.

Yet many Christians use the words tresspasses or sinners for two reasons.  It is used later in the passage.  It does not have that feel of dirty money.

Me?  I really have no trouble with debts because we don’t alway use it to mean money.  When a friend does you a favor, you might say, “I owe you one.”  You don’t mean one dollar.  You mean one favor.

And, let’s face reality, we end up owing each other quite often.  When I’m attempting to get the wet coffee grounds to the trash can and dribble all over my husband’s freshly mopped floor?  I clean it up and I apologize.  I hate mopping the floor!

When I was working a swim meet and a swimmer on deck smacked me in the face, he owed me one.  Boy, howdy.  I saw stars and dropped my clip board.  He’d only been stretching but when he threw his arms back he caught me looking down.  I can’t tell you how often he said that he was sorry.  His debt was well paid!

If you spend any time online, you’ve seen the posts.  People gripe about the smallest things.  Instead of forgiving the debts of others, they tally them up.  The problem is that collecting debts like this can weigh you down.  That is why, in my not-so-humble opinion, these people seem angry and unhappy.

Forgive the debts of others.  Don’t just do it because you want God to forgive you.  Do it to lighten your load.

–SueBE

 

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Last month, Pope Francis made headlines by suggesting that it may be time to change the words of the Lord’s Prayer from “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The reason for this proposed change is to negate the notion that God would ever lead us into sin.

I started to write this post last month, but held off, as I kept finding the post coming back to #MeToo and things we’ve been hearing from the president. Hoping to steer away from topical, highly-charged issues and back to the prayer itself, I realized that this prayer is timeless as well as timely. Maybe the reason I can’t stop finding its resonance in the news and in the world at large is that it’s not only relevant – still – but it may contain solutions to these problems.

It’s more important than ever for anyone in a position of authority to seek God’s counsel to avoid the temptation of abusing their power. And the need to forgive seems just about continuous of late.

I looked at the wording of various translations of the line about forgiveness.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (New International Version)

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Roman Catholic version)

Forgive us for doing wrong as we forgive others (Contemporary English Version)

I’d like to add my own version, if you’d indulge me:

Hold my hand as I walk the path so I don’t lose touch with my own humanity.

Make me mindful that, at my worst, I’ve been unkind.

So when another child of God aims their pain at me, it’s best for my soul to let it go.

If only we had a universal translator to sort through what people are really saying, maybe we’d see that the world is a neighborhood. Everyone we meet is extended family. Somewhere between intention and interpretation, healing awaits.

I’ve been struggling with a word lately. Nothing polysyllabic, mind you. Just two little letters: AS. Oh sure, I can spell it. I can even use it in a sentence (and often do). It’s the repercussions of those two letters in one particular context that have me thinking: Their use in the Lord’s Prayer.

Here’s what I’m talking about: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a pivotal part of the prayer that Christ himself gave us. And it is here that semantics come into play. “As” can mean “while” or “at the same time as” — as in, “forgive us our sins while we forgive others their sins.” But it can also mean “equally” or “because” — as in, “forgive us our sins to the same degree we forgive others theirs, or only because we forgive theirs.” See what I mean about two letters being thought-provoking?

The first interpretation is the easiest to parse and live with. It’s rather a tit for tat situation: You do your part, God, and we’ll try to do ours. But there’s no commitment to “keeping up with the Joneses” here — no promise to forgive to the same extent as God does. The second definition (“to the same extent as”) poses a trickier quest because it does ask us to do as God does, in the same way and magnitude that God does. That’s one tricky commitment.

“Because” also holds its challenges. It requires that we go first: We forgive to be forgiven. Can I do that sincerely, without feeling like I’m taking my spoonful of castor oil only so I can have a lollipop afterward? Can I do that without demanding the reward of forgiveness in return?

Forgiveness is tough, and it gets tougher depending on the degree to which we love the person we need to forgive. So, if we want forgiveness for ourselves — and who doesn’t? — it behooves us to think hard about those two little letters. What did Jesus mean by them? Which interpretation would he choose? Or would he choose “all of the above” — the toughest challenge of all?

God created language, and God knows (and delights in) its intricacies. So I’m reasonably sure of my answer. Jesus gave us just one prayer in all of scripture; he knew we would be picking it apart and analyzing it for centuries to come. I’m far from the first to wonder about it. I certainly won’t be the last.

So there’s my task: To be forgiven AS I forgive. Whatever that means. Whatever it takes. Boy, that’ll require some serious prayer.

The Lord's PrayerThis particular line in the Lord’s Prayer has always made me cringe.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. That’s the translation that Presbyterians use. There is also the one more commonly used in the Catholic church — Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Or a third version — Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Not that the translation is as important as the meaning.  We will be forgiven as we forgive others.

The problem for me was that I grew up with someone who was verbally abusive.  This person wasn’t always a part of my life.  It depended on who lived where.  But when we were together, I knew what would eventually happen. As if the abuse wasn’t bad enough, I was taught that to truly forgive it, I had to put myself back into the situation time and time again. I knew what was coming and so did the adults in my life.  But that’s the way it goes.  God wants you to forgive no matter how many times you have to endure this.

Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew this was wrong.  God loves me.  Sure, God loves my abuser too, but that doesn’t take away from his love for me. Christ stopped the woman from being stoned. He didn’t tell her to suck it up and shrug it off.

A few weeks ago, our adult Sunday school was doing a session on Biblical forgiveness. In this session we learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.  Forgiveness can be accomplished by one person. I’m not going to act against you. I’m laying down my anger and my hate. Reconciliation takes two because it requires restoration of trust.  You don’t need to achieve reconciliation to be forgiven.

My family was less than thrilled when I made it clear that my participation in this was over and done.  It changed the family dynamic, but that was okay because it was a dynamic that needed to change.  I was a young adult when I took this step.  I am still coming to an understanding of reconciliation vs forgiveness.  I suspect it will be a life long lesson.

Don’t hold back on forgiveness because you can’t expect reconciliation. Give yourself this gift.  Lay down the hate.  Lay down the rage.  Once you are free of these burdens, God can and will take you into his forgiving embrace. It’s what He’s wanted all along.  Forgive us our Debts…

–SueBE

Yesterday, I came across a viral video of a reality star apologizing on camera and I thought his heart wasn’t in it. To me, it seemed he was saying, “Because I got caught, I am terribly sorry.”

What if we had no choice but to tell the whole truth? I wonder if the world would stop turning. The problem is that sometimes the facts aren’t always clear.

For example, I found this lovely version of the Lord’s Prayer on the website, www.worldprayers.org:

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Envision your “I Can” now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
Yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision, Power and Song
from gathering to gathering.
Amen –
May our future actions grow from here!

The notation says it was derived from the original Aramaic, and I’m assuming that it’s an accurate translation. It’s not that I think anyone’s lying to me, but I really have no way of knowing. For something based on ancient texts, it seems to use a lot of new-agey affirmations and modern-day phrases, like “being in the Present.”

I suppose I’m not looking for people purporting to speak for God – He’s got that covered. I prefer to hear the wisdom of good people who live the creed as they understand it, like this gem from a childhood friend we could always count on.

At the center of the universe is a
loving heart that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.

Fred Rogers 1928 – 2003
(Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

The Lord's PrayerI find myself yet again asking for a prayer.  A dear friend is facing her third battle with cancer.  When we were in our twenties, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer of a very rare, aggressive kind. She came through treatment wonderfully.  Then 5 years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Again, we prayed and yet again she came through the treatments better than we had dared hope. Recently, her energies ebbed. She was often short of breath. Again, she went to the doctor.  This time around it is a rare blood disorder that invariably leads to leukemia.

For those who love her, this is an especially difficult time and I don’t just mean her illness.

For the most part, we are a prayerful group but facing this battle yet again many of us are at a bit of a loss. What do we say?  How do we pray? “Hey, God. It’s me. Again. Look, I’m getting a little sick of this.”

Okay, that’s not it. But how do you pray when the words don’t come? When you’d rather just flop down on your face in the middle of the bed?

Here are three things that have worked for me in the past week.

  1. Ask for prayer. I know it sounds like a cop out, but ask friends for prayer.  Admit that you don’t know how to pray about this yourself because it is just too much.  Your friends will get it. They’ve been there themselves. They’ll hold up everyone involved.
  2. Resort to a time honored prayer. We all have prayer that we’ve memorized.  I love the Prayer of St. Francis. Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love . . .  Another favorite is the Jesus Prayer. Jesus, have mercy on me, the sinner.  At times like this, when someone is desperately ill, I turn to the Lord’s Prayer. May thy will be done.
  3. Pray through song. I know you expected this one from me and here it is. When I’m at a loss, I turn to music. So many of our hymns are also prayers.  In fact, my choir has sung several arrangements of the Prayer of St. Francis. Sing through some of your favorites. They speak to you for a reason.

There are times when it is all but impossible to pray.  Ironically, these are also the times in which prayer is vital. Maybe one of these ways will work for you.

–SueBE

My husband is taking classes so that he can join the Catholic Church….and boy, am I learning new things! For instance, only nuns who live in cloisters can rightly be called “nuns;” all the rest (you know, the ones you actually meet on the street, who teach your children and tend to the sick) are “sisters” or “women religious.” I have never heard this differentiation in my life.

And the practice of holding hands with one’s pew-mates during the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer during Mass? According to my husband’s teacher, this is “not an official part of Mass.” In fact, she doesn’t know why anyone still does it. I could tell her why: Community.

Church services are a celebration of Christian community. Otherwise, why not hold our own private services each week? The body of Christ is comprised of all of us who believe, and we — like it or not — are human beings. And human beings are tactile creatures.

I just happened to glance out my window. A car just pulled into my neighbor’s driveway. A man got out. Upon seeing my neighbor, the two men embraced. That’s what friends do. Why? Because, as Mary Gordon once wrote, “Flesh is lovable.” Or, as Finn, protagonist of the show “Adventure Time” (yes, I watch cartoons!), would say, “Hugging helps.”

When we get together to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, touching ought to be involved. Yes, of course, there is the Sign of Peace, a moment to connect with one’s neighbors, but to me, that’s not enough. Holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer shows solidarity of faith — here’s what we believe, and look how we are proud to demonstrate it! I think that’s what Jesus would have wanted from his prayer, both remembrance and affirmation, all in one.

Some people blame the post-Vatican II years for bringing too much sloppy emotion into the Church, too much Counterculture kumbaya-ing, too much hand-holding. But they forget that this was a reaction to centuries of icy cold rigidity: the priest facing away from the people, the Mass said in Latin rather than the language of the people. There was a remove between God’s people and God’s word. Vatican II brought down that wall. One can hardly be blamed for rejoicing.

As times have grown more serious (the ‘60s and ’70 may have been politically tumultuous but they were also rather silly — fluorescent pink hot pants and fringed leather vests, anyone?), a good deal of the touchy-feeliness of the post-Vatican II Mass has been toned down. But I, for one, would hate to see it dissipate entirely.

I belong to a parish community. These people are my friends. We share a faith, a home, a belief system. Why shouldn’t we embrace at every opportunity?

So if you ever happen to be seated next to me at Mass and I extend my hand to you, I hope you’ll take it. It may not be de rigeur, but love never is. Love is a choice.

The Lord's PrayerThere are 7 of us on the committee to hire a new pastor.  We read over applications.  Listen to sermons.  Conduct phone interviews and pray.

What do we pray?  Not to mess up.  To find the right candidate.  To find someone that will help our church move forward.  That we hire the person who will help us discern God’s mission for us in our community and in the world.

We want to do God’s will, but for any chance of success, we have to know what His will is.  That’s not easy when you’re busy.  There are numerous ways to discern God’s will but they all take a certain amount of time and quiet.

  1. Read the Bible.  The Bible is God’s word and He uses it to speak to us.  How often have you read a familiar passage only to have something new leap out at you?  Something that speaks to where you are now and what you need to do?
  2. Pray.  Take the time to communicate with God. What we ask can be just as revealing as His answer.  Putting something into words can help you clarify your thinking, focusing things and helping you see what really matters.
  3. Meditation.  Listening is a part of prayer, but if you are anything like me, you need to take a few moments and relax. You breathe in.  You breathe out.  And you listen.  What drifts into your mind?  You may not receive an answer right then and there but you will feel less frantic about the whole thing now that you’ve spent time in His presence.
  4. Wait.  One of the greatest impediments to doing God’s will is our impatience. We want an answer and we want it NOW.  No.  To be honest, we wanted it yesterday or the day before.  We’re praying about it because we are getting a little worried that we have yet to discern his answer.  The answer then is very often “wait.”  You aren’t ready.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more listening to do.  I’m waiting for an answer that I know will come in His time.

–SueBE

Our Father
(With apologies to James Schuyler)

Our Father (I’m
having trouble with those words;
more in a minute)
who art in heaven (see,
now I have two fathers
in heaven, You and Daddy,
and I don’t want to blur the line)
hallowed be thy name. (I try,
and yet it is so very hard, especially
for someone as accident-prone as I. The
strongest oath my mother ever emits
is “Judas traitor!” That’s a lot
to live up to)
Thy kingdom come, (yes!)
thy will be done, (yes!)
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Wouldn’t it have been easier
to make us like the angels? So
much less to worry about.)
Give us this day (this hour this minute this second)
our daily bread (and yet, so much more!),
and forgive us our trespasses (I
much prefer this word to “debtors.” No one
owes me anything, but plenty have
trespassed on my heart)
as we forgive those who trespass against us.(I
see! It’s reciprocal. Tit for tat. As we forgive,
so shall we be forgiven. Interesting.)
And lead us not into temptation, (this is not
your fault, by the way. You could lead us
into a cave; we’d still be tempted to
scribble on the walls)
but deliver us (yes! again, yes!)
from evil. (for it is all around us, and
we tire easily)
For the kingdom, (like the very best
fairy tale, only real)
the power (you wield it gently,
yet you wield)
and the glory (ah yes!)
are yours (yours alone)
for ever and ever (I
hope to live there one day
with you. Please, may it be.)
Amen.
(Amen.)

The Lord's Prayer

A school shooting was narrowly averted last week in Georgia.  A group of teens are on trial in Oklahoma for killing a college student because they were bored.  Fraud and child abuse.  The list goes on and on.

Add to these the personal tragedies that so many people are dealing with.  In one week alone, I’ve read messages from people who are going through separation, miscarriage and serious car accidents.

Between the national and personal tragedies, it’s hard not to feel isolated and alone.

Fortunately, Christ knew all about that feeling.  He knew what difficult tasks and overwhelming odds would do to our moral.  I think that’s why he gave us the Lord’s Prayer.

Take a look at it.  No one who says this prayer is saying “my father.”  This is a prayer to Our Father.  It isn’t a prayer asking that one person’s needs be met or that this single sinner be forgiven.  This is a prayer for us all.  It covers all of our needs and all of our sins as a group.

When we say it, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  We are part of the community of believers – across the country, all over the world and throughout time.

And that pesky little discrepancy, debts and debtors vs. trespasses and trespassers?  To me, it works as a reminder.  We may not be alike in every way.  We don’t even pray in exactly the same way.  But we are His and He is ours and we are part of one vast community.  We may feel down and out of touch with society, but we are not alone.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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