Owning the Lord’s Prayer

In 1997, my wife and I decided on a radical midlife career change. Over the next year, we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved to Richmond, Indiana, where I enrolled in Earlham School of Religion.

My interest was in Quaker Studies—I had no intention of studying religion—but I knew that most of my fellow students at ESR would be preparing for careers as pastors or chaplains. It seemed like a good idea to do a little preparation. In particular, I felt a need to know the Bible better and to understand prayer.

I tried a scholarly approach to learning about prayer. There are plenty of books about prayer, but they didn’t speak to me. Some seemed too dogmatic, while others were too flighty for my tastes. Most of all, they seemed to assume that their readers already knew what a prayer was and what the basic mechanics of praying were. I wasn’t sure that I did.

As a child, I went to Catholic schools and attended mass at least once a week. We were taught to memorize lots of prayers and repeated them frequently. But simply repeating the words over and over had never been very meaningful. It seemed a lot like chanting the words to a magic spell—especially when, as an altar boy, I recited long strings of phonetically memorized Latin. Sometime in high school, I stopped saying them.

When books didn’t work, I tried to just talk to God, but it was unsatisfying. I just wasn’t sure what to say. For a while, my attempts at understanding prayer came to a halt.

Meanwhile, I was making good progress with a simple, straightforward, academic approach to learning about the Bible. I bought and studied several books, reading the corresponding portions of Scripture as I went along. It was the first time I had looked at most of it, but by the time classes started in the fall of 1998, I had a working knowledge of the Bible.

In the course of my biblical studies, I came to Matthew 6:9, where Jesus says, “This is how you should pray. . .” and then proceeds to recite words that I had heard repeated hundreds of times—the Lord’s Prayer. Since my other approaches to prayer weren’t working, following these instructions seemed as good a starting place as any.

As a first step, I decided to simply recite the words to the prayer, but to pay careful attention to each one. While this seemed like a straightforward task, it proved nearly impossible to carry through to completion. Long ago, some part of my brain had evolved into an “Our Father” autopilot. When it was activated, I could say the whole prayer without really paying any attention at all. Slowing down and concentrating produced minor improvements—I could get through a couple of lines before my mind would start to wander—but practice didn’t make perfect.

Still, even slow progress was progress. Although I continued to be plagued by mental intrusions, more and more they came to be related to the text itself. What, I wondered, does it mean for a name to be hallowed? Why would I have to ask God to not lead me into temptation? What, in simple English, did it all mean?

One thing became clear: I was taking on too much at a time. As a second stage in my learning process, I decided to break the task into more manageable pieces. Instead of trying to recite the whole prayer, I took it a piece at a time and, at the end of each phrase, I stopped and tried to restate what I had just said. This wasn’t an attempt at precise translation, but instead, I was trying to say—in my own words—what each passage meant to me. Just as important, getting to the end stopped becoming a goal. Now I was content just to do a few phrases with full attention.

I’ve been engaged in this contemplative process for several years, and it has become one of my principal spiritual disciplines. Hundreds of times I have started, but more often than not, I do not get through the prayer from beginning to end without my mind wandering—not even by breaking it into bite-sized pieces. My academic work in Quaker Studies has helped me with some of the more difficult parts, mostly by exposing me to more of the Bible and by showing me how others have approached this deceptively simple prayer. Over these years, I have developed a deep appreciation for these few words and have come to believe that they contain the essence of Jesus’ faith and practice.

I can now say with some confidence that I own this prayer and it owns me.

Unless you speak words that are easy to understand, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. (1 Cor. 14:9)

What follows is a selection of personal reflections on individual passages from the Lord’s Prayer. This is not a scholarly analysis of the text, nor is it intended to be read as a better translation of the original Greek. My Greek is limited to reading definitions in a Greek-English dictionary. Nor can I claim to have discovered any hidden or secret meanings. It is simply my best effort at letting the prayer speak to me.

In each section, a few words from the prayer—what I have come to look on as a single petition to God—will be presented along with a Scriptural passage that seemed to be related to that petition. These are followed by some of the thoughts that have arisen in my meditations on that phrase.

Please accept my comments, feelings, and reactions merely as a starting point. They are intended as an invitation for you to do the same. At the close of each section I have offered one or more possible restatements of the petition and provide space for you to write your own interpretation.

Petition 1: Our Father who art in heaven

Abba, Father, all things are possible for you; take this cup from me. Even so, not what I will, but what you will. (Mark 14:36)

Jesus clearly thought of God as a beloved and loving parent. When talking to others, he frequently referred to God as “my father” or “your father.” His prayers often start simply with the word “father.” Although there are a few instances of God being addressed as “father” in the Hebrew Scriptures, God is more often portrayed as a distant figure, approached infrequently by the High Priest in the innermost sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ordinary people were not spiritually clean enough to deal directly with God. For Jesus to speak directly to God and to address God as his parent must have struck some of his contemporaries as the height of impudence, if not simply sacrilegious.

In one instance, the Gospels record Jesus calling on God in an even more intimate manner. When praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified, Jesus is reported to address God as “Abba”—an Aramaic word inserted in the earliest Greek texts that means “Papa” or “Daddy.” We don’t know what Aramaic word Jesus used at other times when the Greek says (pater), but I believe that this was not the only time Jesus appealed to God as his papa. To me, it seems likely that when he taught his disciples to pray, he also used the unceremonious and intimate “Abba” and invited them to do the same.

There is something even more unique about the first two words of this prayer. As mentioned above, Jesus is frequently quoted saying “my father” or “your father,” but this is the only time that he is quoted as saying “our father.” In doing so, he further widens the bounds of intimacy between God and humanity; he includes everyone in a single family with himself. He invites each person to join him in being a child of God.

There are those who will feel that words like “father” or “daddy” are inherently patriarchal and oppressive. Regardless of what “Abba” meant in Aramaic 2,000 years ago, in contemporary society, some attributes of parenthood are assigned to men and others to women. But God is not limited by gender, nor should we be in our prayers. I often include “mama” or “mommy” in my restatement of this petition.

Other people did not have a happy relationship with either of their parents and find even this substitution inadequate. If so, look in your life for someone who loved you without reservation and use that person as a model when calling on God. Think of God as a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or as the dear friend who is closer than anyone related to you biologically. Remember that in the Song of Songs, God is portrayed as a lover. If this petition is to serve as a focus for your meditation, you get to choose who to address it to.

My petition: Heavenly Mama, Papa of us all!

Petition 2: Hallowed be thy name

You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)

My first problem with this phrase was the word “hallowed.” The primary association I had with “hallow” was “Halloween.” I knew the word somehow meant holy, but it seemed to be more than that. Meditation (and dictionaries) didn’t help. Finally, I looked up the Greek word, (hagaizo), that is translated as “hallowed” or in other places as “sanctified” or “made holy.” But the word in Greek also conveys a sense of something that is set apart as sacred and pure—something hidden from our profane view. With this in mind, I went on to consider how that changed my understanding of “name.”

At the time Jesus lived, a name was not just a word by which something was known; it was believed to reveal the essence of the thing itself. Parents, for example, would not simply choose a name for a child because it sounded nice—they needed to find the right one, the one that expressed who the child really was. In the quote above, an angel tells Joseph to name Mary’s child “Jesus,” which means, “Jehovah is salvation,” because, the angel explains, “He will save his people from their sins.”

A consequence of this view of names was that to know a name was to know the fundamental nature of the thing named and, in some sense, to have power over that thing. To know God’s name would be to know God’s essence and to have some power over God.

In the Hebrew scriptures, God’s name, (Yahweh) was a word too holy to be spoken. Whenever a reader encountered the sacred Tetragrammaton, the word (adoni—Hebrew for “Lord”) was substituted. Even today, most English Bibles use “the Lord,” instead of “Yahweh.”

In the first century, the overwhelming majority of people were illiterate and only knew the Scriptures as they heard them read aloud. For those people, God’s name would therefore be as ineffable as God—never seen or heard, never touched, tasted, or smelled. It existed—everyone and everything had a name whether it was known or not—but it was beyond the grasp of a mere human.

Over the centuries, the understanding of what a name represents has changed dramatically. Today, a name means something very different. I came to realize that if I was going to say something in English that meant the same thing that Jesus meant, it would require putting this petition into very different words. Perhaps, “You are so holy and so wholly different from me that I can’t say anything about who you are.”

While this restatement appealed to me intellectually, over time I found a deeper and more personal wording that better expresses what this phrase has come to mean to me:

My petition: Just to call your name is a blessing.

Petition 3: Thy kingdom come

Behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)

Just as some people are uncomfortable with the word “father,” “kingdom” has contemporary meanings that a person living 2,000 years ago might not recognize. I have found that substituting the original Greek word (basileia) can be helpful. A kingdom, in ordinary speech, is a physical space ruled by a human being. The basileia is a spiritual state dedicated to God.

When I first began to really pay attention to this phrase, it seemed that there was a word missing, that it should be “Thy kingdom will come” or “Thy kingdom has come.” I preferred the first—I was waiting for God to come and fix things. But, as I became acquainted with other references to “the kingdom” in the Gospels, I realized that Jesus was not talking about something in the distant future, but something that was very close. The very first reference says that the basileia is “at hand”—not quite here, but very near.

But, what is this basileia? Jesus talked about it quite a bit in the Gospels, but he described it by way of parables: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed . . . like yeast hidden in flour . . . like a treasure hidden in a field . . . like a merchant seeking pearls . . . like a net cast into the sea . . . like a man who hired laborers to work in his vineyard . . . like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. . . .”

In these parables, Jesus never says directly what it is—only what it is like. Perhaps a straightforward description would have been ineffective or even impossible for his disciples to understand. It also seemed to be something hidden or overlooked, but we are not told to search for it. Jesus said some people will say to “look here or look there,” but we should not listen to them. The basileia is within us.

Surely, we should know if something so wonderful was already within us, but perhaps we blind ourselves by so intently seeking it outwardly. Jesus was saying stop chasing after heaven on Earth—we can find God’s peace and tranquility by making a place for it in our hearts and souls.

My petition: There is a home for you in my heart.

Petition 4: Thy will be done

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Song of Songs 7:10)

We don’t have to believe that Jesus was divine to believe that the night before he died, he knew what was coming. He could have run away, but instead, he went off by himself and prayed to his Abba. In his prayer, he asked if he could be spared the ordeal that awaited him, but the prayer ends with a promise to be faithful: “not what I will, but what you will.” He freely chose to do God’s will.

Just as the words “father” and “kingdom” can be stumbling blocks for modern readers, I stumbled over “God’s will” for some time. It felt rigid and unrelenting. “God’s will” seemed like a heavy, unavoidable obligation imposed on me—something a harsh and demanding God would require of meek and subservient worshipers.

But this wasn’t my experience of God. Even in the times when God might have reason to be angry with me, I have always felt God reaching out to me, calling me, wanting to take me back—if I would come.

Rather than “God’s will,” I have felt God’s desire for me, the kind of desire that a lover feels for his or her beloved. Even when I have turned furthest away, I have felt God yearning for me to return. When I see the words “God’s will” I remember that yearning and desire.

I believe that the creation of the universe is ongoing. In the beginning, God had a vision of all creation in harmony. All these years later, God still desires the fulfillment of that vision and hopes that I will take my place within it. Doing that does not require me to be someone other than who I am; it calls on me to be my truest self. By my actions, I can help to achieve God’s vision or to hinder it. When I do what God desires for me, I am part of a creation that is moving towards the realization of God’s vision of harmony.

When I put my own desires ahead of God’s, an opportunity to participate in the fulfillment of God’s perfect creation is lost. But the vision remains; God’s hopes for me remain; and another opportunity is presented.

My petition: May your love for all creation be answered.

Petition 5: On earth, as it is in heaven

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

Several years after I began my contemplation of the Lord’s Prayer, I became aware that I was skipping over this part. The phrase itself seems pretty straightforward—there are no strange words, so an obvious restatement is just to leave it as it is—but I realized that my difficulty was with “heaven.” It’s not a word I use often; the possibilities of heaven and hell are not really important to my spiritual life.

Mostly, I’m just not sure what “heaven” means to me. I don’t really think I am going to sit on a cloud with a harp after I die. Nor is there another image of an afterlife that I can believe.

For this reason, I generally don’t use the word “heaven” in everyday conversation. If I say “heaven,” others might reasonably assume that it means the same thing to me as it does to them. It seems safest to just ignore the word and avoid the issue. But this isn’t everyday conversation; prayer is a conversation with God. Surely in prayer I should be even more careful to say what I mean.

This wasn’t a problem for Jesus’ disciples. Two thousand years ago, the reality of a separate, spiritual realm was accepted in somewhat the same way that today we accept the existence of polar ice caps or subatomic particles. (I’ve never seen either one, but I believe they exist.) To early Christians, heaven was a real place above the sky and beyond the stars. It was the dwelling place of God and other heavenly beings. But over the last several hundred years, the distance to the stars has swelled to what seems almost infinity and the place of heaven has receded further and further from our everyday world.

I believe in the reality of the spiritual world, but I don’t truly know anything about its nature. I don’t know that there are other heavenly beings or that people will go there when they die. I don’t know what it would mean that God’s will is done there. At the same time, just ignoring these seven words feels unacceptable.

Fortunately, I don’t believe that the meaning of this phrase depends on believing in the existence of heaven as a place we go after we die. Heaven and angels may or may not exist, but even if it is all a myth, it paints a picture of the basileia, of a place of perfect harmony. This heaven is a place where all freely receive God’s love and freely return it to God at all times and in all ways.

Seen this way, the phrase challenges us to live a life of comparable faithfulness. It prays that we who are now living on earth will be as consistent in seeking and doing what God desires as an inhabitant of heaven would be. I have come to see these few words as a petition for help in becoming what I hope to be: Right now, I may be an imperfect, very human, being, but I can aspire to perfect faithfulness and I can ask God to help me achieve it.

My petition: Help me to be faithful.

Petition 6: Give us this day our daily bread

Do not store up treasures on Earth. . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matt. 6:19, 21)

At first glance, this looks like a simple request for food. And it’s a pretty specific one: give me bread “this day” and, looking to the future, give it to me “daily.” A lot of the prayers I said as a child sounded like this:
“Give me a bike.”
“Let me pass this test.”
“Don’t let me get caught.”
These are the kinds of prayers I can no longer say—it feels presumptuous to think I can tell God what I really need. Surely God knows my needs better than I do.

In considering this petition, I have learned not to be too literal—in both Greek and Hebrew the word for bread can mean any kind of food. More than that, I have come to read it as a metaphor for all the things a person needs to live. Looked at in this way, the phrase can be read as, “Give us what we need today.”

But I think there is more involved. Why specify “this day” or include the word “daily”? Both seem unnecessary. God provides what we need today and every day. One possibility is that “daily bread” is a reminder of the manna that God provided the Israelites when they fled from Egypt. God warned them to gather only what they needed each day and not to save up extra. They were to trust in God to give them what they needed each day.

There is a similar call for absolute trust elsewhere in the Gospels when Jesus sends his disciples out to preach. He told them to take virtually nothing with them—no money, no change of clothes, and no bread. They were to depend entirely on the people that they served to feed and clothe them and to provide a safe place to sleep. Or, perhaps more accurately, they were to depend on divine providence every day and in every way.

Such instructions were not reserved for those closest to Jesus. In the quotation above from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached against accumulating wealth in this world. He warned us all that our hearts will be where our greatest treasure is. Then, he pointed to the birds and asked, “If God takes care of the birds, won’t God also take care of you?” Good parents care for their children every day and we are all God’s children.

In teaching us to ask for “daily bread,” Jesus was telling us to seek today what we need today and not to worry about storing up extra for tomorrow. If we try to carry more than we need right now, it will only weigh us down on our spiritual journey.

My petition: Give me only what I need for today.

Petition 7: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

If you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you. (Matt. 6:14)

Asking for forgiveness is essential to spiritual health. To say, “Forgive me,” I must admit that I am in need of forgiveness because I have done something wrong. For a long time, I thought that was the purpose of this petition—to get me to see that I had done wrong and then to ask for and obtain forgiveness. But hidden in this phrase is something much harder than admitting my own wrongs and asking for mercy. In the second half, the meaning of the petition shifts dramatically.

One of the stages of the grieving process is bargaining. A person at this stage might say, “God, if you make me well, I’ll go to church every week.” Sometimes, we try to entice God into doing something we want by offering to do something in return that we think God wants. We act as if we can reward God for good behavior.

This petition turns the bargain on its head. Rather than saying “God, if you forgive me, I will forgive others,” it puts the burden on us to forgive others first.

When it came to rewriting this petition, I found that it was easy to say something abstract. Forgiving anonymous “others” is easier than forgiving the people I live with and work with every day. In order to be honest with myself, I often need to be more specific:
“Forgive me as much as I forgive my boss for making me work on a Saturday.”
“Forgive me as much as I forgive the committee that passed me over for the job I wanted.”
“Forgive me as much as I forgive other drivers on the highway.”
“Forgive me as much as I forgive my mother.”
“Forgive me as much as I forgive my son when he defies me.”
“Forgive me as much as I forgive people who leave the seat up on the toilet.”

Sometimes, I need to remind myself what is required of me. On those days, I reword this petition as, “If I don’t forgive others, you don’t have to forgive me.”

My petition: Forgive me as much as I forgive others.

Petition 8: And lead us

He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps. 23:3-4)

Usually when the Lord’s Prayer is recited, these three words flow right into the next few without the slightest pause. When I first took up this work in 1997, I did the same thing, but the more I considered that longer phrase, the more I came to believe that there was a comma missing. There seemed to be two different ideas entwined and I needed to consider each of them separately. When I did, I felt that in these three words I had found the heart of the prayer and the heart of my response to its message: Lead me.

It’s easy to think that “lead me” is the same as “show me the way and I’ll follow it.” In my meditations, I discovered that I had two problems with such an interpretation. First, it seemed to imply that there might be times when God does not show me the way. This may sound like a good excuse when I haven’t been faithful, but in my heart I know it isn’t true. Although I might not always pay attention or want to hear what God is telling me, I am never on my own. “The way” is always visible.

More serious is the presumption that in saying “lead me” I am telling God that, if the paths of righteousness are revealed, I will walk in them. If it were only that easy.

One prominent image of God as a leader or guide in the Scriptures is as a shepherd. It is useful to remember that a shepherd doesn’t just point out the way for the sheep; they need to be actively guided. The shepherd’s job starts with constantly urging the sheep to go in directions that they seem reluctant to choose. Sometimes, the shepherd needs to use a staff to gently guide a wandering sheep back into the flock. Other times, the staff is used to deliver a decisive thump, “encouraging” a laggard to catch up. Sheep do not always appreciate the need for such guidance—neither do I.

Having the humility to ask God to lead me is a first step toward living a faithful life. It is only when I give up trying to “lead my own life”—when I give up believing that I am in control—and ask God to be my guide that I can hope to do God’s will or to discover the presence of God’s basileia in my heart.

My petition: Be my guide.

Petition 9: Not into temptation

God knows the secrets of your heart. (Ps. 44:21)

For a long time, every attempt to reflect on these words ended up raising the same question: “Why would a loving God ever lead anyone into temptation?”

Besides which, temptations are all around us—we hardly need anyone to lead us to them. Most don’t seem so serious: “Will I go 70 when the speed limit is 65?” “Should I eat the last donut?” “Can I gloat (just a little bit) over my successes?” Perhaps the ultimate fate of the universe depends on such things, but I doubt it. Besides, I’m a self-aware adult; I know my weaknesses, even some that I will not admit to others. Usually, it isn’t too difficult to avoid indulging them—and the times when I might need to pray about avoiding temptation are precisely those times when I have already found it all by myself, and what I really need is a little help losing it again.

Or am I fooling myself? Did I really find trouble all by myself? More importantly, am I really that self-aware? Do I really know my limitations?

I am the father of three adult children. All their lives, I have wanted nothing but the best for them. In a lot of ways, my ultimate goal has always been that they grow into strong, honorable, independent adults. Long ago I realized that if whenever something went wrong I had stepped in to spare them unhappiness, or if I had taken on any burdens they might have to bear, or if I had protected them from the consequences of their own choices, they would have remained children—no matter how old they grew to be.

Each time they faced up to a new test, they grew up a little bit—whether they passed it or not, and whether or not I could have done things better.

Often, to be a good parent, I had to let them do things all by themselves. Sometimes, I had to let them fail. Even harder for me, there were times when I could see trouble coming and had to let it happen.

God is our good parent. For us to grow spiritually, God must let us face our times of trial. Sometimes, we will fail, but we can come to know ourselves better in that failure.

For each of us, there are times when we overestimate our spiritual maturity. For our own good, God may need to guide us into a time of trial. When those times come, we can ask God if it is possible to postpone the test or to escape it entirely. But when we are faithful, like Jesus at Gethsemane we will end our pleas with, “Not what I will, but what you will.”

My petition: Help me to face my weaknesses.

Petition 10: But deliver us from evil

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the muck and mire, and set my feet upon a rock. He gave me a firm place to stand. (Ps. 40:2)

What is “evil”? Two thousand years ago, horrible things happened to good people every day. Innocent babies died. Diseases swept through the population, taking some and leaving others for no apparent reason. The rains wouldn’t come when they were needed and whole communities faced starvation. Or, the rains would fall for days on end, causing floods and drowning the land. A Roman (or Persian or Egyptian) army would march through the land, killing, raping, and pillaging as they went. The highways were haunted by thieves and murderers. As the apostle Peter wrote in his epistle, evil stalked the land like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

My world is a safer one. I personally don’t worry too much about being the victim of war or famine. Where I live, crime is infrequent and diseases are rarely long-lasting, crippling, or fatal. But I can’t fool myself into believing that I am completely safe, even on a purely physical level. Or that the world at large shares even the degree of safety that I enjoy. For this, I am grateful, but I don’t think danger in the world around us is what this petition is about.

We may pray that God will protect us from external evil—from natural disasters or the evil acts of others—but these are far less dangerous than the evil within us. External evil may threaten our physical safety, but the evil we do ourselves threatens our spiritual safety.

Most of the time, we are not in serious danger. To act in a truly evil way is difficult. It requires that we know what we are doing is seriously wrong and it will estrange us from God, but we choose to do it anyway. To really do evil is to completely turn away and sever your relationship with God. I pray God will be with me if I ever face such a choice.

In my everyday life, this petition serves to remind me of a much more prosaic difficulty. Eating an extra chocolate éclair is more foolish than evil, but excusing my weaknesses—indulging my foolishness—makes each new challenge easier to evade. Likewise, if I practice faithfulness in these little things, I am strengthened for the test when it comes.

This petition is a reminder of my capacity for self-deception.

My petition: Save me from my own stupidity.

Petition 11: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

This petition has always been the hardest for me to sort out. Being brought up Catholic, it was never part of the prayer I said or heard recited in Mass. It felt like it was tacked on and never quite fit for me. To me, these words were too formal. They seemed to portray God as a power-hungry, glory-mad tyrant. They didn’t fit into the personal, intimate conversation with my Abba that preceded them.

When I found out that most Bible scholars do not believe that these words were part of the original prayer (it’s not included in most modern translations of the Bible), I was relieved—perhaps I could just ignore them. But the phrase continued to challenge me. Why, I wondered, would they have been added? Did they have something important to say to me?

My first breakthrough was in reminding myself that I didn’t have to accept the image of God as an earthly king or the basileia as a kingdom of this world. The basileia is God’s vision of creation as it can be and should be. Saying that the basileia is God’s reaffirms that vision. That affirmation reminds us where our greatest treasure lies and reinvites God to live within us.

Second, I realized that this whole prayer is not concerned with God’s power over us, but with the power from God that empowers us. It is about the strength we receive from God to grow into our truest selves. Acknowledging the source of that power recognizes the foundation of our spiritual strength.

Finally, admitting that all true glory is God’s requires us to look honestly at our own claims to fame. Without God’s gifts, we build passing dreams with limited abilities to achieve momentary recognition. We remain trapped in our mortality. When we use the power God grants us to build the basileia, our lives become glorious.

When I remember all that, I can give up my feelings of oppression and declare my gratitude joyfully.

My petition: Thank you for all your blessings.

Petition 12: Amen

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isa. 6:8)

I used to think that “amen” wasn’t really a word. It seemed to have no meaning, but only served to mark the transition from sacred speech to ordinary speech. It was like saying goodbye at the end of a telephone call.

This is a far cry from what the word meant to the Israelites fleeing Egypt or to Jesus’ disciples. In Hebrew, (amen) was an affirmation—it meant “truly,” “verily,” or “so be it.” When the word was carried over into Greek,(amen) retained these meanings and, when it was pronounced at the end of a sermon or prayer, carried the sense of “may it be fulfilled.” Rather than being a transition from the sacred to the profane, it was a commitment to carry the sacred forward into the everyday world. It was a promise to make what had just been said happen.

It’s easy for us to think that we are honoring God when we set aside certain times as holy times, certain places as holy places, and reserve special words for prayer, but when we do so, we are implicitly claiming all other times, places, and language for ourselves. “Amen” shouldn’t mean “I’m done praying now,” but “Now I’ll put my prayer into action.”

I have found several valuable restatements of this petition in popular culture: In Star Trek, Captain Jean Luc Piccard says, “Make it so!” In Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton the Elephant says, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” This is an example I try to live up to.

My petition: So help me, God!

Paul Buckley

Paul Buckley is a Quaker theologian and historian living in Richmond, Ind., where he is a member of Clear Creek Meeting. His most recent book is Twenty-First Century Penn, a collection of five of William Penn's theological works in modern English.