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Dave Brisbin

Teach Us to Pray

Familiarity breeds contempt usually means that the more we know people, the more we can lose respect and judge more harshly.

If contempt seems too strong a word, at least the more familiar things become, the more they blend into the wallpaper until we don’t even see them anymore. And when those things are religious scripture and doctrine, we may be so saturated that we believe we know things we have never considered on our own: accepted as children or under group pressure, such teachings became familiar before ever teaching us how to live spiritual lives in a physical world.

And what is more familiar than the Lord’s Prayer? Even those not steeped in Christian tradition are familiar with it. We learned it as kids, recited it—but what is this wallpaper saying? Is there anything to learn beyond mere recitation? We know the words: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth…

But when Jesus’ friends asked him to teach them to pray, he would have said something like, abwoon d’bwashmaya, nethqadash shmakh, teytey malkuthakh, nehwey sebyanach, akanna d’bwashmaya aph b’arha. Transliteration alone gives a sense of the unfamiliar otherness of a teaching from as far out of modern Western experience as humanly possible. But beyond mere translation, when we put these Aramaic words back in their ancient Eastern context, we discover this “prayer” is actually a blueprint for living a spiritually aware life.

The five lines of the prayer form the steps of a process that starts with becoming unfamiliar again with everything we think we know. Clearing an interior space allows us to see the reality of the sacred in the ordinary details of life and begin to match our values to God’s, only knowable when our sense of separate self is lost in present action. Released from that sense of separateness, the victimhood of the past, we realize a new connection, always herenow.

If we can become unfamiliar again, see these words again for the first time, we can stop reciting them and start living the path they describe. Or better, recite them as a reminder to really live.

 

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