by Christine Sine
Last week I was sent a copy of Abba:Meditations Based on the Lord’s Prayer by Evelyn Underhill, with the expectation that I would read it and discuss it with a few friends – Alan Hirsch, Mandy Smith, Tom Herrick, and Cheryl McCarthy. I had not read this document before and was profoundly impacted by its depth and insightfulness. Too much to assimilate in one session so we are planning another discuss to follow. However I thought that I would not just share this link to a document that I heartily recommend to everyone who has been reading the series on Unpacking the Lord’s Prayer with delight, but also share a couple of the quotes in the first part of the document that most impacted me and a prayer/ poem that bubbled up out of my reflections.
It is too often supposed that when our Lord said, “In this manner pray ye,” He meant not “these are the right dispositions and longings, the fundamental acts of every soul that prays,” but “this is the form of words which, above all others, Christians are required to repeat.” As a consequence this is the prayer in which, with an almost incredible stupidity, they have found the material of those vain repetitions which He has specially condemned. Again and again in public and private devotion the Lord’s Prayer is taken on hurried lips, and recited at a pace which makes impossible any realization of its tremendous claims and profound demands. Far better than this cheapening of the awful power of prayer was the practice of the old woman described by St. Teresa, who spent an hour over the first two words, absorbed in reverence and love.
It is true, of course, that this pattern in its verbal form, its obvious and surface meaning, is far too familiar to us. Rapid and frequent repetition has reduced it to a formula. We are no longer conscious of its mysterious beauty and easily assume that we have long ago exhausted its inexhaustible significance. The result of this persistent error has been to limit our understanding of the great linked truths which are here given to us; to harden their edges, and turn an instruction which sets up a standard for each of the seven elements of prayer, and was intended to govern our whole life towards God, into a set form of universal obligation.
It is so true – how many of us really read the Lord’s Prayer with the intent of entering into the truth of it, not as a formula but as a way of life.
In those rare glimpses of Christ’s own life of prayer which the Gospels vouchsafe to us, we always notice the perpetual reference to the unseen Father; so much more vividly present to Him than anything that is seen. Behind that daily life into which He entered so generously, filled as it was with constant appeals to His practical pity and help, there is ever the sense of that strong and tranquil Presence, ordering all things and bringing them to their appointed end; not with a rigid and mechanical precision, but with the freedom of a living, creative, cherishing thought and love. Throughout His life, the secret, utterly obedient conversation of Jesus with His Father goes on. He always snatches opportunities for it, and at every crisis He returns to it as the unique source of confidence and strength; the right and reasonable relation between the soul and its Source.
I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about the unseen Father and realized how little attentionI give this God because I have learned to refer to God with gender neutral words. Yet we need to know the tender, all loving perfect Abba Father:
Our Father, which art in heaven, yet present here and now in and with our struggling lives; on whom we depend utterly, as children of the Eternal Perfect whose nature and whose name is Love.
God, who stands so decisively over against our life, the Source of all splendour and all joy, is yet in closest and most cherishing contact with us; and draws us, beyond all splendour and all joy, into Truth. He has created in us such a craving for Himself alone, that even the brief flashes of Eternity which sometimes visit us make all else seem dust and ashes, lifeless and unreal. Hence there should be no situation in our life, no attitude, no pre-occupation or relationship, from which we cannot look up to this God of absolute Truth and say, “Our Father” of ourselves and of all other souls involved. Our inheritance is God, our Father and Home. We recognize Him, says St. John of the Cross, because we already carry in our hearts a rough sketch of the beloved countenance. Looking into those deeps, as into a quiet pool in the dark forest, we there find looking back at us the Face we implicitly long for and already know. It is set in another world, another light: yet it is here. As we realize this, our prayer widens until it embraces the extremes of awestruck adoration and confident love and fuses them in one.
And the prayer that bubbled up within me: