The whole Our Father has what scholars call an eschatological cast. This means that it looks toward the end of time and culmination of all things in God. The first half of this prayer Jesus gave us ends with the hope God’s kin*dom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To conclude the second half, we ask deliverance from the great battle between God and evil that many early Christians and many present Christians envision will happen before the coming of God’s kin*dom.
Early Christians expected the risen Jesus to return in glory and usher in the new age within their lifetimes. They looked forward to deliverance from persecution. What tests us as Christians in our time? What tempts us to abandon Jesus’ mission? What makes us cynical and despairing rather than hopeful in the life-giving capacity Jesus insists we share? These are questions we must reflect about individually and with others as we deliberate the Spirit’s promptings in our present experience. Use the following five realities of our lives to launch a conversation with yourself and friends.
How much do we need? Why do we want so much? A woman seeking to downsize puts out a bag of ‘stuff’ for the trash collector every week for a year and still hasn’t made a dent in her crowded house. On the other hand, a couple beginning second marriages for them both ask their guests to contribute to Habitat for Humanity or Heifer International to celebrate their marriage. “We don’t need any more crystal,” they say.
What is the relationship between being a Christian and being a consumer?
Talk radio. Sitcoms. Tweets. Smart phones. How much do these dominate our lives? Do you veg? Do you believe the untruths you hear? Do you make choices about the amount of time you spend texting or checking your email? Do you know why you spend the time you do? Like any great good, all the forms of media at our disposal have the capacity to dominate us.
The self-made person is the American myth, telling us any of us can make it if we try. Our individualism blinds us to the village and extended families that raise and support us. It distances us from solidarity with the least among us in our world who most need a leg up. The United States is a nation founded on self-interest, where free citizens benefit from what we earn?a great good. However, as citizens, we are also called to solidarity with each other. We cannot let people go unfed, uneducated, with jobs. But the thought of responding individually to the needs we see around us overwhelms us, and we often shut our doors and our hearts.
In our global society people of every color and culture have become neighbors. The crescent joins the cross and star of David on religious buildings. At the same time racial and ethnic differences often divide and separate us rather than enrich our community. Most black people have watched others cross the street rather than meet them on the sidewalk. Most people of color experience stereotyping. Families flee the city and work extra jobs to secure safer neighborhoods and better schools, forgetting how vital good schools are to the well-being of the entire country. How is the diversity of our country or just your neighborhood challenging you?
Very few of us say we are wealthy, yet most people making this retreat are in the wealthiest 10% of United States taxpayers. Being in this top bracket means we have enough financial security to live predictable and rational lives. We save for education, family vacations, and retirement. We take advantage of tax breaks. We pay off credit cards rather than incur whopping amounts of interest. We drive to work, get there on time, look nice, have a good day, and return home to a solid meal and TV. We have little idea that we aren’t the struggling poor when our monthly bills and statements arrive. We have no idea everyone isn’t or couldn’t be like us unless we visit their world to listen and learn.
Our Father, like our fathers and mothers and guardians and coaches and teachers, does not leave us alone with our fears and feelings. To pray Jesus’ prayer is to invite his Holy Spirit into your life.
The Spirit does not work alone or in hiddeness. The Spirit is in every good impulse, in every small action of reaching out, encouraging us in our capacity for greater wholeness. The Spirit is in the companions with whom we find heart in working for the common purpose of the inclusion of all in our society. Together magnifies what we can do alone. Commitment encourages commitment. Conversation among us enlarges our world.
What tests you? What encourages you? What do you to be delivered from? Your possessions? The shallowness of your friendships? Your fear of anyone different from you? The nagging feeling that going to church and praying the Our Father is asking more of you?
Make a commitment to follow what encourages you in bringing Jesus’ prayer alive in our world. Is it a person who helps you see potential you have missed before? Is it a group who work on a project you can believe in? Is it a time to yourself each day to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to you? When you have discerned what this commitment is for you, keep at it long enough to test it, and go from there.