June 25, 2017

Lord's Prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name

We are praying our way through the Lord’s Prayer, a phrase at a time, this summer. So far, we have discovered depths of meaning in the first line “Our Father, who art in heaven”. Today we move on to the phrase “Hallowed be thy Name”.
Hallowed is not a common word in everyday 21st Century English. It was much more common in Elizabethan times when the Lord’s Prayer was translated into English. The word means holy, consecrated, sacred, or revered. In modern use, it can refer to long held traditions or significant locations (Gettysburg, cemeteries, and universities, for instance). ‘Hallowed’ can be traced back to the Old English word hālig meaning ‘holy’. Of course, the holiday of Halloween comes from ‘All Hallows Eve’, or the day before All Saints’ Day.
In the Bible, the Hebrew word translated as ‘hallowed’ is qadhash, meaning to set apart or consecrate or the Greek work is hagiazo with essentially the same meaning of making holy, consecrating, or sanctifying. There are many references in the Bible where the Hebrew word gadhash or the Greek word hagiazo are used. These include: Leviticus 22:32, Exodus 20:11, 1 Samuel 21:6, Numbers 18:29, Jeremiah 17:22, Hebrews 9:2, Revelation 22:11, among others.

Enter the Presence: The phrase ‘Hallowed by thy Name’ might, as we look at it, be a bit perplexing. Are we trying to sanctify God’s name? Isn’t God the One who should do the consecrating? The phrase “Hallowed by thy Name” is part of the entire opening salutation of the Lord’s Prayer. We are addressing “Our Father, in heaven” and acknowledging that the very Name of God the Father is holy.
According to Philip Wendell Crannell, the word “embraces the idea of marked separateness.” Crannell also says “To ‘hallow the name’ includes not only the inward attitude and outward action of profound reverence and active praise, but also that personal godliness, loving obedience and aggressive Christlikeness, which reveal the presence of God in the life, which is His true earthly glory.” 
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume V notes, “In these words, we give glory to God…as an adoration; as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God's holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God…our chief and ultimate end in all our petitions, [is] that God may be glorified; all our other requests must be in subordination to this…[And] We desire and pray that the name of God, that is, God himself, in all that whereby he has made himself known, may be sanctified and glorified both by us and others, and especially by himself…”
So, we are not trying to make God holier, instead we are acknowledging that God is indeed the source of all holiness. By saying, ‘hallowed be thy Name’, we are admitting that God is holy and separate and that we must respond in awe and obedience to that glorious presence in our lives.
Stand In Awe: Sometimes we get too familiar with the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Take some time to sit and pray the phrase, substituting some of the other meanings for the word. Some suggestions might be:
[Father] “Sanctify thy Name”, “Make your Name Holy”, “May your Name be set apart and special”. Think up your own version.  
Does changing the wording, change the emphasis for you?
Do you find yourself drawn deeper into the holiness of God by one of the phrases?
Involve your Heart: Think how God makes ‘hallowed’ and holy all life. If you looked at some of the other verses using the word, you will notice that creation, bread (especially the shewbread), and offerings are among the things that are sanctified. How does the fact that everything is 'hallowed' change the way you look at the world? 
Make a list of people for whom you would like to pray that they feel surrounded by the holiness of God’s love.
Write the word ‘Hallowed’ or ‘Holy’ in the middle of a page. Surround it with things in your life that you consider holy because they are from God, or like God.
You could add to your ZenTangle or color prayer, if you are doing that.  
 This week focus on just the words “Hallowed by thy Name”.

Next week we’ll look at the phrase ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. 

June 18, 2017

The Lord's Prayer: Who art in Heaven

How did your praying with just the words “our Father” go? Did you make a word picture and add your own prayer requests? Did you calligraphy or make an acrostic? Did you just sit with the two words and let them soak into your soul? How does it feel to just sit with ‘our Father’? Feel free to share in the comments if you want.
This week we will look at the words ‘who art in Heaven’. This phrase reminds us that God’s home is heaven. But what does that mean? What is ‘heaven’? Where is it?
Enter the Presence: I suppose our modern concept of ‘heaven’ is different from that of a first century Jew. After all, in the first century, heaven was the sky above that was vast and unreachable. We have pierced the sky with our rockets and visited the moon and even other planets. We have seen images of stars and galaxies so far away that they would have seemed impossible to a first century person. Astronomers cannot really guess how many stars there might be in the universe. David Kornreich “used a very rough estimate of 10 trillion galaxies in the universe. Multiplying that by the Milky Way's estimated 100 billion stars results in a large number indeed: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, or a "1" with 24 zeros after it. Kornreich emphasized that number is likely a gross underestimation, as more detailed looks at the universe will show even more galaxies.”
I’m sure the magnitude of stars in heaven would have been a shock to Abraham who was told by God, "Look up at the sky and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Genesis 15:5) We are heirs of that promise.We are one of ‘Father Abraham’s sons [or daughters]. (You remember the Sunday School song!) If there are really 1024 stars, then there are that many beloved sons and daughters of God! Abraham’s clear desert sky would have shown with myriad stars, but he could not have seen beyond the Milky Way, nor imagined that there were stars beyond what he could see. (The picture below of a section of the Milky Way from the Hubble Telescope shows how packed with stars the sky really is.)
Stand In Awe: Yet I think, I hope, there is still some mystery about heaven. Even the scientists aren’t sure of the extent of it. We may never really know how many stars there are. We can, however, know the One who made the stars. Psalm 8 is reminds us of the One who is in charge. We are told that God’s glory is ‘above the heavens’ and that the moon and stars are the ‘work of God’s fingers’. Read through the Psalm slowly. Does the psalm give you a different sense of ‘heaven’ than the scientific estimates of numbers?   
1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger. 
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them? 
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
7 All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 
9 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Involve your Heart: Read through the Psalm again, perhaps in a different translation. Is there a phrase that makes you stop and think about God and God’s heaven? If you have a chance, find a place beyond the city lights where you can see a wide expanse of the night sky without interference from street lights. Even if you cannot get out beyond the city. Turn off your lights and sit outside looking up at the stars. Just sit and look at the heavenly skies.
Consider what it means to pray to Our Father ‘who art in heaven’, yet who loves us intimately as one of Abraham’s children.
Perhaps you’ll want to continue the same activity you began last week. You could add to your ZenTangle around the word ‘Pray’.
You might prefer to find a way to record your impressions in a photo or drawing of the night sky, or by composing your own psalm God ‘who art in heaven’. 
Draw a bunch of stars on a paper. Each star is a person, place, event, or other prayer request. Can you pray for every star on your page?
Maybe you want to have some fun and sing the Father Abraham song and do all the motions, remembering the promise of God to the patriarch!
This week focus on just the words “who art in Heaven”.
Next week we’ll look at the phrase ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’. 

June 11, 2017

The Lord's Prayer: Our Father

Welcome to a new adventure. Throughout the summer, we’ll be exploring a very familiar prayer in some, perhaps, unfamiliar ways. At the end, we’ll have developed some new insights into the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer in our life and worship. The prayer that we call “Lord’s Prayer” is Jesus’ response to his disciples’ request ‘teach us to pray’. It is found in Matthew (6:9-13) and in Luke (11:2-4). We use it in nearly every worship service. Many of us pray it as part of our daily devotions. Even many non-Christians know the words.
Have you ever looked at the prayer phrase by phrase? What do the words really mean to you? Can the prayer provide insights into your life? Do the words open your heart?
These are some of the things we'll be considering over the next few weeks as we delve into this familiar, yet multi-faceted prayer. 

Enter the Presence: The first two words of the Prayer are an address to God: “Our Father”… To the first century Jews, this would have been an almost shocking familiarity. The Jewish people knew that the Holy One of Israel lived in the Temple in Jerusalem, and was found in the Torah. Addressing the Creator of the Universe as “Father” was inconceivable.
For some today, this opening phrase is just as difficult. In recent years, there has been much written that the word ‘Father’ alienates those who have perhaps been abused or who had a poor relationship with their earthly father. It is a valid concern*. Remember the word ‘Father,’ in this context, is just a way to describe relationship. It is not the only attribute of God. Try not to get stuck on the gender of the word.

Stand In Awe: Think of all the other names of God in the Bible. Genesis 21:33 calls God: “Lord, the Everlasting God”. In Exodus 3:14, God says “I AM” is his name. Gideon names God, “The Lord is Peace” (Judges 6:24). There are other terms, phrases and names of God throughout the Bible. Take some time to research them.
What is the Name that you use most often when addressing God? Is it Father, Lord, Savior, Friend, or something else?

Involve your Heart: One way to experience prayer is to turn it into art by creating an image with the words or using calligraphy to embellish it. 
You might want to make a ZenTangle from it. Google ZenTangle and you'll find lots of words and images to inspire you. You could copy the image of ‘Pray’ from this blog as a starting point, and write the words of the prayer in and around the art. 
Perhaps you enjoy the idea of ‘praying in color’. If so, write “Our Father” in the center of a page. Be as fancy as you want with the words. Around them write the names of people or events you want to lay before God in prayer.
Perhaps you’ll want to continue the same activity all summer, or try different formats each week. 
This week focus on just the words “Our Father”.

Next week, we’ll consider “heaven”.

*If the word ‘father’ bothers you, I would invite you to think of God as the perfect Father you may not have had. Lisa TerKuerst of Proverbs 31 Ministries has said that despite having a less than perfect father, she imagines curling up in a chair with her heavenly Father and being held and loved in the way she wishes she had been as a child. One of my own favorite memories of my father was sitting on his lap in a giant green chair (well it seemed giant to me as a child) as he read bedtime stories to me. I can still feel the rough texture of the upholstery and the hint of cigarette smoke on his breath. Even later understandings of his brokenness and hurtful actions cannot erase that memory of the love of that evening ritual. 

June 4, 2017

The Women of Pentecost

Today is Pentecost when the church remembers the giving of the Holy Spirit as rushing wind and fire on those gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. In the Jewish religious calendar, 50 days after Passover there is the Feast of Shavout which commemorates God giving the tablets of the Law to Moses during the Exodus. Latin speaking Jews started calling this Feast “Pentecost” because it was 50 days after Passover. Because it was an important festival, Jerusalem was full of pilgrims.
In Acts we hear that after the Ascension, “they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Acts 1:12-14)
It is often overlooked in the events that follow in Acts 2, that there were women present in the Upper Room with the disciples. Peter gets the big press because of his witness in Acts 2:14-36. The other disciples and the women are in the background.
We can postulate that along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is named; Mary & Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and even Salome and JoAnna might have been present, as the ‘certain women’. You’ll recall we met these women during Lent. Today, let’s listen to the 3 Marys as they discuss the amazing events. Our cast includes:
Mary of Nazareth (MN)
Mary of Bethany (MB)
Mary of Magdala (MM)

(Mary of Magdala):    What an amazing day!
(Mary of Bethany):      I have never felt so close to God.
(Mary of Nazareth):    Only once before have I felt such loving power. It was over 30 years ago. I was praying alone as I did my chores. Then suddenly, a terrifying yet comforting figure of light appeared telling me that I would bear a son. Today I felt something similar to the burning, cleansing, healing, and empowering of that moment.
(MM):  First I felt a strange wind. I thought that the shutter must have blown open, but when I looked it was closed.
(MB):  It was a warm wind, like you feel in the summertime or during early harvest. I thought it felt like a caress.
(MN): Then it became stronger and we all started looking around.
(MB):  It was then that I saw those strange dancing flames.
(MM):  Those were so lovely. I almost wanted to capture one in my hands, but they moved as one with the wind.
(MN): It was the fire of God. The fire Moses saw on Sinai, like the figure of light who came to me.
(MM):  Yes, it was from God. The fire didn’t burn even when it touched us all.
(MB):  There was a type of burning…
(MN):  Yes, a flame that spread through my whole body, like drinking warm wine on a winter day-only better.
(MM):  I felt as if my heart was blown open and I could feel as one with all creation.
(MB): I wonder if the men felt the same thing? I know they felt the wind and saw the fire. Then they, we all, started speaking in many languages.
(MM):  That was astonishing. Some of the languages I recognized from when I had my shop in Magdala and traders came from everywhere. Others, I have never heard.
(MN):  I remember the story of the Tower of Babel when God confused the languages. Now God had opened us to hearing and understanding them all again.
(MM): God is doing a great thing. Just see how Peter has gone to the street to preach.
(MB): Who wuld have thought that Peter, fisherman that he is, would be the one to go and tell the crowd what happened?
(MN): It is the work of God!
(MB): It is our work as well. Remember Jesus said, ‘You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth’.
(MN): We must work for the kingdom of God in the world, to restore the people to unity with God. That is the work of my Son which must continue.
(MM): I think that amazing things will happen to us. We will see things that we could never have dreamed and visit places we never anticipated.

Tradition tells us the Mary of Magdala was correct in her words. Supposedly the sisters Mary & Martha, traveled with Lazarus to Gaul (France). Legend says that Mary of Magdala traveled to the court of Caesar and testified there. Mary of Nazareth, it is said, returned to her home and was later a source for many of Luke’s stories in the Gospel. Just as much as the Old Testament matriarchs we met throughout the Easter season, these women share their faith DNA with us. Like them, we work for the Kingdom of God in the world. We work to restore the 'dignity of every human being' (Baptismal Covenant, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer). We do the work of God on earth.   

During the summer, we will explore the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase. There is a lot of inspiration in each of the phrases we say, too often, by rote at least weekly if not more often! 
(Image: by Canadian artist Gisele Bauche)
(c) Cynthia Davis 2017