Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teresa's Way

We may take a whole hour over saying (the “Our Father”) once, if we can realize that we are with Him, and what it is we are asking Him, and how willing He is, like any father, to grant it to us, and how He loves to be with us, and comfort us.  –St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection
I decided to try the Lord’s Prayer in Teresa’s way, taking an hour to pray it once.  Because typing takes longer than praying, I gave myself eighty minutes.  I then went back and edited it just enough to be understandable—no sense publishing something that only makes any sense to me and God.  I have omitted my usual endnote citations, so there are a number of Scripture and Prayerbook references that will have to stand on their own.  Also, this is considerably more raw than my more polished entries—not enough to get the an Adult Content warning on the blog as a whole, but something to be aware of.  I didn’t think it would be honest to gussy it up.  I have used the contemporary language version from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is the version I pray in the context of the Daily Office.

Our Father

I am so angry with Clare!  She and Sophie were each trying to tell me a story, and they remembered one key detail differently, and Clare’s version was probably right, it made more sense, but she was absolutely determined to shout Sophie down, and I told her over and over to let Sophie tell the story her way, and then Clare could tell it in hers, but she just defied me and would not stop interrupting Sophie, just insisting on shouting her down; why can’t Clare let someone disagree, why does she do that?  I remember when I was about 10, my cousin and I had been fishing in the morning and found a little back-eddy where we caught 14 fish within a half hour or so, boom, boom, boom one right after another, and you know how on summer days when you’re a kid and every moment is so full, and by the time the evening comes, the morning can seem like the day before?  And my cousin was absolutely convinced that we had been fishing the day before, but he was wrong, I know he was wrong, but my big fat coarse redneck uncle said he was right and he didn’t want to hear any more about it, and good God, thirty-five years later I still get angry thinking about that, what the hell is the matter with me?  And I swore I would never ever do that, that everybody gets to talk and everybody gets to say it their way and nobody has the right to stifle anybody, but of course if I had defied my parents like that, I’d have gotten hit, which I will also never do, so I piped down like I was told to, but God it burns me to this day, but I wasn’t telling Clare not to talk, just to let Sophie finish, why couldn’t she understand that, why wouldn’t she stop, why did she defy me like that, and why does it make me so angry, and what should I have done besides get mad and shout her down in turn, and why is it so important to her to be right, she’s only six?  What have I done to deserve someone so much like myself, and how can I keep her from becoming as fucked up as I have become?  My parents were always nagging me, nagging me, and I was a good kid—there were always so many bad things that other kids were doing and I wasn’t and I never seemed to get credit for that, only nagging for the ways in which I somehow failed to measure up; dear God, please please please don’t let me do that to my children!  I was bitching about how Clare keeps grabbing food off the counter while I am cooking, and Allison said, “Don’t worry, she’ll grow up and leave home pretty soon;” God, I don’t appreciate her enough, either.

My college roommate lost his three-year-old son to cancer, remember?  (Of course You do, that’s stupid.)  My God--the last time I thought about that was before my own children were born; now, it’s beyond my capacity to imagine, she can steal all the grated cheese she wants to;  my baby is already gone, someone stole her and replaced her with a kid, and when she was three she still yelled “Daddy!” and ran into my arms when I picked her up at daycare, and good God, if that little Daddy-adoring toddler had died, I think I’d have died with her, I’d have died for her, I’d have torn down the universe to keep it from happening, and now there’s this willowy six-year-old who pisses me off so much sometimes, where did the baby I used to make laugh in the bathtub by dribbling warm water onto her belly go?  Dear God, do you love me like that?  Half so much? 

in heaven,

What does this mean?  If the Kingdom of Heaven is within me, am I praying to Our Father Within Me?  What is Heaven?  If we are born again, are we there?  Wait, there is in here.  Or do we really “go to heaven” after we die?  Go inside ourselves? This whole “heavenly” thing is such a red herring; Aristotle said that we do not praise men for being happy, yet it seems like we are called upon to admire your heavenliness, and if there is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven, and no place where earth’s failings are such kindly judgment given, what does that mean about eternal bliss, how can You be blissful and feel our pain, too?  You said you dwell in the high and lofty place and inhabit eternity, but are also with the contrite and  humble of heart; why don’t we pray Our Father Who is With the Humble of Heart?  I read somewhere that most of this prayer was cobbled together from bits and pieces of the Temple liturgy, that Jesus was telling His disciples, “Look, you’re over-thinking this prayer thing; here, just say this;” or maybe if I pray to Our Father Within Me, maybe it would be too much like Wonder Twin Powers, Activate! or Green Lantern twisting his ring, or something.

hallowed be your Name,

Wow, wow, wow, do our girls’ friends, and their friends’ parents say “Oh, my God!” a lot!  I remember once when Clare was very small, three or so, she was in her car seat and I was driving and she said, “Oh, my God” apropos of nothing in her kid-pushing-the-envelope voice, and I ignored her, and she did it again, and I pretended not to hear, and finally she said, “Daddy, I say oh my God!” and I said something noncommittal, like, “hmm, so you did,” and that was that for a while, but now she says it whenever there are other kids around, and I catch her eye and shake my head, or murmer “not so much,” and she stops until the next time;  she wants so badly to fit in, she is so awfully self-conscious, and doesn’t want to stand out;  she begged me not to take my Anglican rosary to Meeting at school any more, because she didn’t want her friends asking her “what is that?’, and I pointed our that half her friends are Roman Catholic and surely know what prayer beads are already, but to no avail.  But why do people abuse Your name like that?  They profess unbelief, or some kind of wifty “spiritual-not-religious” malarkey, yet toss the mention of You around so promiscuously, and I know the commandment means not to use Your name in a curse, “may-God-strike-you-dead” fashion, but still, people want to have it both ways—they want You gone, or trivialized to the point where you could be hosting The View, or something, yet invoke you whenever they want to express strong, or even middling strong emotion.

your kingdom come,

This I can picture, though I struggle with my tendency to imagine that it means that all the people who piss me off will just stop it, already; but I can imagine what it means for the unmanifested kingdom within to become manifested, for everyone to realize You and seek and serve You in all persons, loving their neighbors as themselves, though I remember what Evelyn Underhill (whose feast day is today, by the way, I don’t know whether You pay attention to that sort of thing or not) said about how there is no use in our praying “thy kingdom come” every day if we are not prepared to do anything about it ourselves--got to love those no-nonsense stiff-upper-lip Greatest Generation Brits—and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing;  I don’t think it means FedEx us your kingdom packed in bubble wrap, but at the same time, what does this petition imply?  The Lubovicher Hasidim believe that Messiah is ready to come now, and that while we believe we are waiting for Him, He is in fact waiting for us, but can we really possibly do that on our own, get our act together enough to deserve Your coming?  I cannot believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary—that Mary was conceived without original sin—because if You would only be born to a sinless woman, is that really a human birth?  Can we ever get our house in order enough?

your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

This one, too, is relatively easy to imagine, though also difficult to divorce from my own agenda, like what Screwtape said about other people’s “sins” meaning any of their actions which are annoying or inconvenient to ourselves.  But I can see a world where the rich do not pick up the grapes or grain that fall to the ground, but leave them for the poor to glean, or some post-agrarian equivalent—if only all those people on the Gulf Coast could glean all that oil, I think it’s a crime for BP to be selling what they reclaim, they ought to give it away.  I can imagine a world without Lady Gaga in a latex nun’s habit fellating a rosary, a world in which every baby is wanted from the moment of conception, a world in which no one emails Jim Wallace saying “I never realized that I could be a Christian and also care about the poor,” because they are taught that from the very beginning.  I remember when Clare and Sophie were playing in that gazebo in the rose garden at Hershey Gardens, pretending it was their castle and the garden its grounds, and Clare said, “I’m going to give some gold to the beggars at the gate,” God, I love that kid, we must be doing something right!  (I love Sophie, too, of course, though her response was “I’m off to meet my boyfriend!”, oh God, I am so screwed.)  Maybe that’s where the Heaven thing comes in—when we all do Your will on the manifested plane as we all have it within us to do in unmanifested form, that will be on-earth-as-it-is-in-Heaven, Heaven being where You are, heaven-within-us now, but then us-within-heaven later, for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face, right?

Give us today our daily bread

The hardest thing in the world for me—OK, one of the many hardest things in the world for me—is to trust, to consider the lilies.  Oh me of little faith.  What was it that Marianne Williamson said—“if a train doesn’t stop at your station, it’s not your train!”  But what do I do?  Chase down trains, flag them, force them to stop and take me on, then wonder why I don’t enjoy the ride, why I don’t get where I want to go.  I just have to go out and get, do, make;  I have no faith at all that anything good will happen unless I am breathing down the neck of life.  And yet, every single thing that has come to me that I wanted came when I was looking the other way, when I wasn’t chasing after it at all.  When I met Allison, I was on the point of giving up on that kind of love and looking into becoming a monk.  Maybe this is why everybody in every tradition emphasizes renunciation—because only by giving up everything can we be “as those owning nothing, yet possessing everything.”  And I don’t really understand the idea of Providence; why should You give me my daily bread while others starve?  What does it mean that I have some weight to lose while others don’t have enough to eat?  “Lord, forgive us that we feast while others starve.”  I suppose it probably doesn’t “mean” anything except that we who have are not sharing with those who have not—because we have no faith, we think we have to grab all we can and hold on, and if those people are starving it’s because of their bad choices; we make good choices, let God give them today their daily bread.  That You might do that by our hands doesn’t seem to occur to us. 

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

I think I can do this;  I think I can finally do this. 

Everybody is so scared, Lord;  we hurt and reject and devour each other because we are so afraid.  When I used to go to academic conferences, I should have realized that I wasn’t meant for that world, because I was detached enough to look around and see how scared people are—everybody wants to seem smart, competent, good enough.  We praise the emperor’s clothes so much that after a while, we really see them.  Forgive us.  How can I cherish hatred against people who are so afraid?  Thank You, thank You for allowing me to see this.  My Dad said to me that he’s about given up on things ever getting back to normal, but I think that things have always been a mess; maybe it’s the apparatus through which we experience the world that falls apart as we get older; maybe it becomes harder to believe that we know what’s right and we have the right to judge.  Please, God—don’t let things get back to normal; I don’t want to be again that person who used to be so right while so many others were wrong.   So many of the Psalms pray for a firm ground under our feet, for the Rock that is higher than I; does that prayer recur so often because You in Your mercy withhold that firm footing from which we, standing secure, are able to believe we have “arrived”?  I’d rather be in transit my whole life than believe that.  Never let me believe again that You created the things in others that hurt me;  I know now that those things are those peoples’ defences which they have erected out of fear.  Hecubah was right, wailing beneath the ruined walls of Troy:  “Here lies a little child, slaughtered by the Greeks because they were afraid.”  Forgive them; forgive me; forgive us all.

Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

Sri Ramakrishna said that if we pour milk into water, it cannot be retrieved, while butter will float in water without being lost in it; he said that if our minds are like milk, they will be lost in the world like milk in water, whereas if they are like butter, they can float over the world without being merged in it.  When I read that, I finally, this late in the day, began to understand why we bother to continue asking You to deliver us from evil, because You plainly don’t, at least in the way we expect.  Churn us, Lord, until we are rich enough to weather the world with integrity, until we can remain uncontaminated by it without being aloof from it, until we can be in it but not of it.  You got down in the mud and breathed life into us; Jesus was born and lived an earthly life, tempted in every way as we are yet without sin.  I know that we cannot escape evil, trial, temptation, testing; I no longer believe that You “deliver” us from those things by placing us in some kind of spiritual Smurf Village, with Gargamel prowling outside seeking whom he may devour.  If we are not in the world, we cannot reach out the hand of love to those who are.  Deliver us from forgetting who and Whose we are; let us walk through the evil of the world like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.



  1. Interestingly, when I went to summer camp in 4th grade and they taught us to pray the Lord's Prayer, I laid in my bunk at night and did this very thing, picking apart what I thought each phrase meant and telling God how I felt about it and what it reminded me of. On another note, I picked up a book called "When You Pray" at the amazing used book store near my house. It devotes a chapter to each phrase of the Lord's Prayer, as well as a few chapters on how to pray in general - I thought "How to Pray Like an Orphan" sounded interesting. I'm always a little hesitant to spend the little money I have on something written by a modern Christian writer unless it's been recommended to me, because sometimes those books turn out to be so trite, but I took a gamble and picked up 3 the last time I was at the store.

  2. Somewhere off on another plane or in the landscape of imagination or some other place that is real but isn't, or that isn't but is real, there is a little communist utopia where a little part of my soul lives. And sometimes that part of my soul tries to come out into the Real World, but just can't manage because she Cannot Understand how we can continue to Live Like This when we could all just get along if we would All Just Get Along. Some of your comments here make me think a little bit of your soul lives in that communist utopia as well. Not that I find that surprising.

  3. Oh yes, Abbi--definitely a fellow-traveler!

  4. I've always thought of the phrase "Give us this day our daily bread" as asking for spiritual nourishment, rather than actual physical nourishment. To me that phrase has always meant - give my spirit sustenance, give my heart compassion, give my mind insight to do good in this world.
    This was wonderful Scott, there were parts of it that made me laugh, because I've thought the same thing with both of my boys at various points.

  5. Thanks, Peg! Yes, I think it has that meaning, too, but at the same time, Jesus spent a lot of his time physically feeding people--kind of drives home the Word-Made-Flesh thing.

  6. The early bits of this one had me teary, Scott. I am glad, grateful, that we became parents at about the same time. Thank you for your insight and honesty. I hope you continue to be patient with yourself.

  7. I see myself in your reflections. Thank you.

  8. How just right it is that I found this post from a Facebook status posted by my brother jpmorrison, through Elephant, more or less randomly. Your reflections have me questioning my "eternal lost boy," uncommitted-to-any-faith, "panatheist" (sees evidence of deity everywhere but cannot believe) personal way. Thank you for your thoughts and your thoughtfulness. Reading was a privilege.


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