Spiritual Non-Fiction posted February 22, 2011

This work has reached the exceptional level
Trying to understand the words

The Lord's Prayer

by Spiritual Echo

I've known the words all my life. I move my lips and join the congregation, mouthing the prayer by rote, glancing at the back of bowed heads as the final homilies are being said before the service ends. The pews empty quickly. People rush out to the main hall where coffee is already brewing and the tables are piled high with baked goods the ladies have prepared for the social that follows Sunday services.

I sit quietly in the last pew, unnoticed and overlooked and stare at the altar. This is not my church. I belong to no congregation and am attending a memorial service for my friend Maria who died a year ago. She was a devout Catholic; perhaps her own brand of Catholicism, but there was no doubt about her faith.

Thirty years ago she tried to convince me that every Good Friday at exactly noon the skies would cloud over and it would rain as if God Himself was weeping for his son. I laughed in her face and bombarded her with logic, time zones and weather patterns. However, that simple conversation gave me years of mirthful joy. No matter where I was in the world I'd call her on Good Friday and give her a detailed weather report.

I stare at the shiny brass crucifix and the artful splash of colours cast through the stained glass windows and wish that I too had Maria's faith.

There is serenity in the empty church and while I sit in quiet contemplation, I compel the Holy Spirit to enter my heart and fill me with peace.

But, my thoughts are troubled and the loss of my friend still painful. The loneliness inside me since her death is all-consuming. I could tell Maria anything and I knew no matter how great my sin or blunder she would comfort me, never passing judgement.

In this church, where not so long ago her name hung in the air, I imagine that perhaps she might have dropped in and I am reluctant to leave.

I decide to offer my prayer with sincerity.

"Our Father who art in Heaven"

It's funny that when I was a kid I thought God's name was Art.

When we were allowed to paint on easels in elementary school I was sure I was creating a masterpiece. After all, we were in "Art" class. But somewhere along the line I realized that Art was short for Arthur, my father's name. He emotionally, sexually and physically abused our family. I gave up praying for a while after that epiphany.

"Hallowed be thy name."

When you think that a hundred years ago a word like "Egad" was considered swearing, it's a leap to figure out how society got to using "God damn you" or for that matter "Oh God." It's impossible to get through a single day without hearing the Lord's name used in vain. Yet, it's still such an earthy and complete response to so many situations that the eradication of those phrases from my vocabulary would leave a void. I am still at a loss as to why, when we offer up this prayer fairly regularly, we seem to have accepted invoking God's name, but yet if I replace "For God's sake" with for "F***k's sake" I am considered crude and foul mouthed. Ironic isn't it?

"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."

I have no difficulty in aspiring to live with grace and mercy, forever striving to be the kind of person that sleeps without nightmares and dies without regrets. But God, what is your will? You gave us ten simple rules by which to live; great tools for surviving humanity, but what is Your "will?" It seems no wonder that I, as so many others, keep looking for the meaning of life. What is Your "will?"

"Give us this day our daily bread."

I live in a country where there are many resources. Today there are open kitchens and food banks. There is no reason for anyone to go hungry and yet breakfast programs abound in schools as children, the innocent start their day hungry.

And what about those graphic and horrible pictures of starving children, their ribcages and protruding bellies mocking what I take for granted? I have a foster child, I make donations to food drives and yet in this world where we have the resources to feed everyone, people are starving. Sometimes I am ashamed when I prepare a holiday feast.

If they learned this prayer, God, could we eradicate hunger?

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us."

Well isn't that a mouthful!

I'm convinced that God forgives, but I've never figured out how to forgive myself. I punish myself for my past sins relentlessly. It doesn't seem to matter that I may be the only human who actually knows what horrible thing I've done; I do. My self-flagellation is one of the best things I know how to do.

Maria would go to confession and after unloading to the priest, telling him the complete and untarnished truth, she would say her Hail Mary's and exit the confessional booth purified. She wasn't a hypocrite, not one of those Catholics who confessed on Sunday and started over on Monday. Maria was genuinely aware and contrite

If I can't forgive myself, how on earth am I going to forgive others?

I have a high tolerance for stupidity. People say and do things without thinking. That doesn't mean there is any genuine malice and it's easy to let that go. But, what about the person that intentionally does you damage? Not the words spoken in anger or the slap in a moment of rage, but rather that insidious, purposeful desire to wound another. How does one forgive someone that seeks to destroy you spiritually?

The truth is I can't. I am capable of maintaining a relationship; a guarded and socially acceptable truce, but it's like a light switch that gets disabled at the power box. The trust and openness eternally are extinguished.

Perhaps someday somebody will explain what the phrase " forgive and forget" actually means. Perhaps, then I can move past this riddle.

"Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.'

I always stumble over this part. For sure it's not God dragging me down to the bar or pulling my credit cards out of my purse to buy a pair of boots I can't afford. I'm not even convinced that it's Satan. But I am still unsure as to how You can deliver us from evil. I always accredited free will to my own bad choices. But, if you can give me a push in the right direction, it would be greatly appreciated.

"For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever."

As the prayer draws to an end I think about Maria, life and death. It's as if you could take any verse from the scriptures and write a fairy tale. My Sunday school teacher always described Heaven with poetic bursts of clouds and golden auras. Angels would hover, their snowy white wings stretched out protecting cherubs playing soothing melodies on their harps.

Are you up there, Maria?

Perhaps I can forgive you for dying. I will never forget you.


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Artwork by Anne at FanArtReview.com

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