Welcome to Jagannath's Lavender Chapel!

Understanding The Prayer That Jesus Taught Us

A Sermon which Jagannath Prakash gave at
Lavender Road Metropolitan Community Church in the winter of 1996


... If you're visiting MCC tonight, Welcome! We hope you will find your visit here rewarding and we invite you to take from the service whatever you need and leave the rest behind.

I'm Jagannatha Prakasha, and I've been invited to share a bit this evening.

The late great spiritual guide Joseph Campbell, urged us all to "follow our bliss," so here's a bit of mine: I'd like to talk about prayer tonight, specifically the Prayer Our Master Taught Us.

Dear Jesus: our Master, Guide and Teacher, We thank you for the opportunity to approach your throne of grace through prayer, yet we confess our ignorance of how to do that. We crave ever closer communion with you and so we request: Master, please teach us how to pray.

There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer contained within the Bible. The Inclusive Version presents them this way:

The first, at Luke 11:2-4 says:

"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of the disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples." Jesus said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father-Mother, hallowed be your name.
May your dominion come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
[Well, we should anyway!]
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

The other, more familiar version, is found at Matt. 6:9-13:

Our Father-Mother in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your dominion come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For the dominion and the power
and the glory are yours forever

This is one of the most beloved prayers in the world. Virtually everyone in the West knows it by heart, whether they're Christian or not.

The prayer was originally spoken in AramaicJesus native tongueto first century Hebrews living under the boot of the Roman Occupation. We know Jesus spoke it in Aramaic because Matthew later presented it in its original Aramaic form in his book karosootha D'mattai.

We need to understand right off, that Jesus wasn't talking to Westerners, and when we translate his teachings into modern English, through the lens of Greek copies of copies of still older Aramaic fragments, we must make allowance for this fact, understanding that no translation can convey all the subtleties and cultural imports of any given text, whether that text is inspired or not. So in order to get the most from this important lesson, some familiarity with New Testament Aramaic language and culture will prove helpful.

When seeking to understand this prayer we realize right off the bat that there's a language problem. Jesus had never heard the English word "prayer." That being a given, the disciples did not approach the Master and ask, Teach us how to pray, not in those words anyway, they spoke Aramaic.

The English word "prayer" is used here to translate the Greek word Pr&=244;s-uchmai, which the author of Luke chose to convey the Aramaic word SLOTHA, follow that? {repeat} So then, the Disciples really asked Jesus to teach them how to SLOTHA (Sounds like fun, eh?). Anyway, a lot of important instructions have been lost somewhere between SLOTHA and PRAYER!

Now, think about it for a moment, how would Jesus, the undisputed Master of Parables, respond to such a question? Why, with a parable of course, or at least a simil. And that's exactly what he did:

"SLOTHA" comes from the root word SLA which means "TO SET A TRAP," as when hunting. This was the simil Jesus employed: prayer is like setting a trap. Now, to set a simple trap, one takes a box and props it open with a stick with a string tied to it. The hunter then conceals him or herself in the bushes and waits for the prey. When it finally comes and enters the trap, the string is pulled and the box falls, thus trapping the animal inside.

Likewise, when the disciples went to the Master and asked how they should PRAY or SLOTHA, they were given technical information on how to "trap" God.

Throughout the ancient world rabbis, dervish, gurus and the like offered systematic instruction on prayer and meditation. Prayer was much more than just closing one's eyes and talking to the darkness. In the Luke text, the disciples referred to the fact that John the Baptizer had such secret teachings in their request for instruction.

Now, considering the way most people pray today, this question might seem a bit odd. We might reply to their request by saying, "Well, you just close your eyesif you want toand talk to God like you would to anyone else."

And certainly there is a vital place in spiritual life for this type of prayer: Our car begins to sputter going over the hill [the Santa Cruz Mountains] and we quickly pray hopefully with our eyes open "Oh God, please don't let it break down here!" And often God kindly intervenes and we make it home all right. But this isn't the type of prayer the disciples were asking about here.

"Master, teach us to pray," they asked. "Teach us how to set a trap in which we can catch God's thoughts and wisdom. Teach us how to 'catch' God's will for our lives and then, as John the Beloved Mystic described it at Rev. 10:9, teach us how to 'eat up' that council, fully incorporating it into our lives, our very essence." Or, in the terminology of Stranger in a Strange Land, "Teach us how to grok!"

Their very request implies the existence of technique. It suggests that there's more to prayer than just closing one's eyes and rapping with God. We must prayerfully set our trap fasting often helps in this process, as does kneeling, joining our palms and similar techniques then, as effective spiritual hunters, we enter the 'bushes' of our prayer closet there's always a closet for gay people! and we wait patiently for God's Spirit to enter into the trap of our contemplation. This process was called "Alter Sitting'" by the old Appalachian Pentecostals when I was a kid. They would often remain on their knees throughout the night patiently waiting for God's holy presence to enter them like 'tongues of fire.' And you know what? It did!

And when Spirit blesses that patient faith and finally does come, the worshipper is transported into the Dominion of unspeakable glory which "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived; [they experience that bliss which] the Christ has prepared for those who love God," (I Cor. 2:9); and their souls bathe in the "peace that passes all understanding" (Philipians 4:7). They experience the transcendent "Dominion of God in our midst."

How seldom do we spend more than a half hour or so in prayer, waiting for God's elusive sweet kisses. Then we wonder why they don't come so often.

How to set our spiritual trap and capture God's heart is the subject matter of the Prayer that Jesus taught us. They asked, Teach us how to pray.

So, to begin with, the Master said to pray: "Our Mother/Father who is in heaven: -wn dwsh-my" in Aramaic. We aren't taught to pray to el-shaddai, the All-mighty God, or to el-elyon, the Most High God, but to seek -wn d'wsh-my, our Mother/Father Who is in heaven.

The Aramaic word "d'wsh-my" refers to the material heavens, the sky: -wn d'wsh-my is therefore our Divine Parent Who exists within the material universes, Who is everywhere present, not to some God in the nether world who can't feel our sorrows and joys. No, God is here, and "In [God] we live and move and have our being" as Acts 17:28 says.

As a child can, hopefully, freely approach its parents, so too we require no other mediator than the Christ within us. We needn't pray to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,' as Jesus' predecessors did. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews was inspired to advise us to: "approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

Granted that God is still known as el gibbor, the Mighty God, as el olam, the Eternal One, but still, -wn d'wsh-my, is our loving Parent, our Mommy/Daddy, who is always fully accessible to each of us.

What Mom does at work has nothing to with our relationship. Mom's on our side!

Now, when we say that "God" is our Parent, just what are we saying? Who is this God Person anyway? Is God some fearsome old bearded man sitting on a celestial throne somewhere up beyond the clouds? Is that the "Our Father" we are told to pray to? Is God the always-righteous judge who casually sentences the vast majority of people to endless torture at the hands of some horned guys in red tightsIs God into S&M? Is God a man? Is God a woman? Is God straight or could God be gay? Well, God is obviously gay! Or at least bi Isn't that a silly notion? The Fundies enjoy making God in their own image! Friends, God's not straight!

Our English word "God" was, of course, unknown to Jesus. The word "God" comes from the German word "goot" which means the "good one."

When Jesus spoke of "God" he probably employed the word "ALAHA," just as the Hebrew speaking people spoke of ALOHIM and Aramaic speakers call the Good One ALLAH. All three of these Semitic Names for the One God share the root "AL." Unfortunately, there is no exact translation for "AL." The closest would be to "refer to one's very breath, to one's very heartbeat." This is the reason for the famous verse in the Koran:

Allah is near to each of us:
closer than the very blood
coursing through our veins.

How intimate is this connection we have with God? It's often said that people are God's hands and feet in the world and this is doubtless, potentially, true, but it's equally true that God is the very essence which empowers those hands and feet.

Isaiah 42:13 and 14 says, in the Jerusalem Bible:

Yahweh advances like a hero
His fury is stirred like a warrior's.
He gives the war shout,
raises the hue and cry,
marches valiantly against His foes.

So yes, God is the very essence of maleness, the perfect "Father." Yet, the text continues:

From the beginning I [Yahweh] have been silent,
I have kept quiet, held myself in check.
I groan like a woman in labor,
I suffocate, I stifle.

So yes, cultural stereo-types aside, God is equally the very essence of femaleness, the ShekEnah, the perfect "Mother."

We have a song here at Lavender Road, that goes, in part:

Our God is not a Woman
Our God is not a Man
Our God is Both and Neither
Our God's the Great I-AM!

Our God is El-ohym, both Father: El and Mother: o'hym; both God and Goddess, and yet neither: as in the Jewish Hassidic teaching of the En-Soff, the No-Thing, or in the Netti Netti of the Indian Sanata-dharma, Not-This Not-That... but I digress.

So, when we say that God is our Mother and/or Father, we are suggesting the existence of an incredibly intimate relationship with the Divinity. It was largely this claim that led Jesus to the cross, according to John 10:30-34.

Jesus said:

The Father/Mother and I are One.
And as a result:
The leaders took up stones again to stone him,
Jesus replied, "I have shown you many good works
from God. For which of these are you going to stone me?"
The leaders answered, "It is not for a good work
that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy,
because you, though only a human being,
are making yourself God."
Jesus answered, Is it not written in your law:
"I said, you are gods?"

This was a reference to the eighty-second Psalm where we are called "Gods, children of the Most High, (El Elyon).

Jesus explains this wonderful Truth at John 17:21-23 when he prays:

As you, Father/Mother, are in me and I am in you, may they [us] also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them [us], so that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Incredible!

Did you hear what Jesus said?

So, when we pray "Our Father/Mother who is in heaven" we are addressing the one Being in all of existence who is closer to us than our own breath, more precious than our very lives, who is our eternal well-wisher, our ALAHA.

Now some religious types say we humans are vile sinners, worthy of God's wrath, but this isn't what the Christ teaches! God doesn't 'condescend' to hear our prayers as so many believe. The truth is, as Colossians 1:27 says, that Christ in us, is the hope of glory. Alaha, God, dwells within each of us, sharing our lives and always seeking fellowship with us, as the resurrected Jesus assures us at Revelation 3:20.

So, as we sit in prayerful meditation, contemplating this wondrous prayer, waiting patiently for God to enter our 'trap,' we are, for that blessed time, fully dwelling within the Dominion or Kingdom of God, even as the Master promised us at Luke 17:20, 21, 'The dominion of God is within us and among us.'

So then, in prayer we set our trap for God. We wait, prayerfully, pondering the various points made in the prayer, we allow ourselves to receive what Christ offers us as in time our trap is sprung and God, Alaha, the Holy Spirit, allows us, in the spirit of love, to capture our Beloved in sweet and holy Communion.

Our Omnipresent Father-Mother,
hallowed [or honored] be your name.
May Your dominion [or universal mastery] be established.
May Your will be done, on earth
as it is in the heavens [where the planets travel
harmoniously in their orbits under the Your Direction].
Give us this day our daily bread [and all other needs
as well, so that we can more fully love and serve you
through our service to others].
And forgive us our debts [to all creation],
as we also have forgiven our debtors [knowing that
there's a divine reciprocity between our willingness to forgive others and our receiving Your mercy and blessings].
And do not let us enter into temptation (to prejudice,
greed and other forms of non-loving thought and behavior).
But protect us from error.
For the dominion [or righteous administration] and the
power [the moral authority and ability] and the glory
[or the endless celebratory songs of triumph] are yours forever,
Amen [as has been said, so shall it be].

Thank you very much.

If anyone's interested, on the table up front I'll leave a few copies of a literal word for word translation of the Prayer that Jesus Taught Us in its original Aramaic form.


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Om Tat Sat

Maranatha, the Christ is among us!

Namaste!


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