Sometime during or soon after seminary, I found that the traditional translation of Jesus’ prayer (aka the Lords prayer or the Our Father) were words that had become dry as dust in my mouth. I could recite them and never even consider their meaning. Their familiarity had allowed me to put up a barrier between myself and the transformative grace of God. First, the new translation, then a few explanations of why I did what I did:
Eternal one, Father and Mother of us all
Who is in heaven and on earth
Holy is your name.
Your kindom come. Your will be done.
Here and now as it will be forever.
Give us today all that we need
and forgive us our sins,
teaching us to forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from all evil and oppression,
for yours is the honor and the glory and the power
forever and ever.
So, instead of repeating the same thing while hoping for different results, I began to try and reinterpret the phrases into words which convict me and call me to live in the shadow of God’s spirit rather than try and run out in my own directions.
I began with the very beginning: The use of the term “Our Father” (perhaps unintentionally) makes God seem male. This is problematic because sexism exists. (I’ve blogged about this previously). So, I replaced the comfortable “our Father” with the challenging “our Mother.” Then, my local church at the time (Holy Covenant UMC in Chicago) had an even better idea. Holy Covenant uses a description of God which recalls God’s oneness as well as God’s transcendence beyond a human understanding of gender. So the re-written prayer begins, “Eternal One, Mother and Father of us All.”
Most of the changes are, I believe, replacement of old words (thou/thine) or syntax with more modern phrasing. “Who art in heaven” became “Who is in heaven.” Other changes remind me of deeper meaning. By adding “on earth” to “who is in heaven,” I recall God is not merely somewhere out there, or an influential character from history but present, powerful and life shaping.
The most personally convicting change was the transition from the many different translations of “ΟΦΕΙΛΗΜΑΤΑ” i.e., debts, transgressions, etc. to the most convicting “sins.” And if I’m completely honest, I changed it from “as we forgive those who … against us” to “teaching us to forgive those who…” because I need a forgiveness greater than I’m always capable of doling out. I need God’s grace to teach and empower me to forgive.
Finally, I added the word oppression to “deliver us from evil.” If my theology were more systematic, than oppression would be an assumed part of evil; however, we live in a world with too much racism, sexism, cissexism, classism, injustice, disparity and war. Oppression is everywhere, and it needs to be named and eradicated. We need grace for that too. Come Lord Jesus, Come. So, I include the specific word – a cry of lament for justice.
The ending does not change much, just flows well and recalls what is well known because we want it printed on our hearts. Yes, that’s right – I want to blend both the disruptive and the familiar: they are strongest together.
Many of us have our private versions, or small changes, of common prayers or songs that we encounter in church or the world. What are your personal interpretations of hymns and prayers, and why are they meaningful to you?