“No One Shall Make Them Afraid”

As far as I know, the Lord’s Prayer is universal among followers of Jesus. Yes, there different versions and translations. But, in the end, we are all praying the same prayer—across time zones, languages, and cultures. Amid diverse lives and experiences, clashing biblical interpretations and diverging theologies, we are all praying the same prayer. We are all praying the same prayer, and that means something. The Lord’s Prayer summarizes Jesus’ teaching, the essence of his mission—what he lived for, and what he was willing to die for. In fact, praying this prayer summons the very real presence of Jesus to be with us, here and now.

And we need a little Jesus this week, don’t we? We need to pray, with Jesus, “Thy kingdom come.” We need to know that despite it all, God is actively at work, birthing a new world, a new way of being human together, a new kind of kinship with all that is. Our government is ripping apart families, imprisoning human beings in cages, stripping people of the human right to seek asylum. Our Supreme Court has enshrined religious and racial bias in the highest law of the land. Again, we’re grieving the terrorism of gun violence and the community trauma of knowing that those with black and brown skin are not safe with the police. And once more, the fossil fuel industry has won out over the health of our waters and climate, the future of our children and grandchildren, the rights and wisdom of indigenous peoples.

Reflecting on this week we’ve had, I was struck by these words from Peter Marty in the most recent edition of the Christian Century:

It’s not an overstatement to say there’s a fear epidemic in America these days. Swapping stories of fright has become our national pastime. It has always been true that if you want to kill an idea, a piece of legislation, or another person’s dignity, you just get people good and scared of what that idea, policy, or person might do. . . . Trump brought his own fearfulness into the presidency. . . . He rolled into office terrified of Muslim immigrants, Mexican criminals, and foreign competition. . . . Once fear gets aroused in any of our minds, its perspective dominates. All imaginative capacities get overwhelmed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once preached of the spiritual damage fear creates. “It crouches in people’s hearts,” he wrote, and it “hollows out their insides . . . and secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others.”[1]

“Our Father/Mother/God who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.”

             Jesus offered the disciples this prayer within a larger teaching about prayer. “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” Prayer begins as an intimate dialogue between the heart and God. Being “in secret” with God means we enter into a space of honesty and vulnerability. In communion with God, we are never isolated; we are rooted in spirit, connected with all that is. That’s why Jesus named God “our,” not “my” Father.

Addressing God as “Father” has limitations and problems which are obvious to us. Simply put, for too long, maleness was humanity’s norm, and our names for God functioned to enforce that power dynamic. However, Jesus called God “Father” for other reasons, too. He was claiming an unusual, familial intimacy with God. He was seeking to redefine what family is. He rejected his society’s insular and rigid understandings of clan, gender and class. He insisted that the bonds we share, in God, are deeper, stronger and more real than the fears that name some of us insiders and others outsiders, the fears that hollow us out, that tear us apart, that motivate violence and sustain hierarchies of dominance. In my view, “Father” is an important name for God, because it was Jesus’ name for God. At the same time, it is one name among many, and it is good for us to continually expand our God-language, to understand that all our ways of naming God are metaphorical, incomplete, and flawed.

“Thy kingdom come.”

For Jesus, the kingdom of God was the main thing—the most important thing. And, again, we find ourselves potentially stuck on this “kingdom” language that, to us, sounds at best irrelevant and at worst, deeply destructive. Jesus was trying to make a leap from what was familiar to his listeners into that which was unknown, which was new. What would the world be like if God, rather than the emperor, was in charge? The prophet Micah offers a beautiful glimpse of creation as a just and sustainable community. Tthey shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” I like to think that this is the picture that was with Jesus mind as he preached and taught and enacted the kingdom of God. “No one shall make them afraid.” It’s easy to be fooled, to think that the only way to fight fear is with more fear. But the truth is, if we want to win against fear, we must embody an entirely different energy. Praying with Jesus, no one can make us afraid, for we live in communion with God, who is radical hope, revolutionary love, irrepressible joy. We live anchored in a with a vision that’s bigger and more powerful than all that we fear. God is birthing a new world, a new way of being human together, a new kind of kinship with all that is.

In a world full of hearts hollowed out with fear, it matters how we pray this foundational prayer Jesus gave us. It cannot be a jumble of words we mumble through. Let us slow down and be fully present to the way this prayer brings Jesus into our lives, into our church, into our world. Let us breathe this prayer. Let us take this prayer into our bodies. So that it may shape what we see and hear, so that it will energize us as we move through the world. So that it will inspire our loving, guide our working, and spark our justice-making.

Kaleo Ching created a beautiful embodied version of the Lord’s prayer using the tradition of Qigong. Qigong is an ancient Chinese form of movement exercise that promotes the flow of Chi (vital energy) through the body. I’ve learned this embodied prayer imperfectly, to the best of my ability, and would like to pass it along to you. You can stand up or stay seated; either way will work.

(You can find the embodied version of the Lord’s Prayer I taught here.)

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/publisher/how-christian-trump-voters-chose-fear-over-compassion