As my prayer life has deepened over the last couple years, I’ve found myself enjoying more and more saying prayers that have been said for centuries by other Christians. The repetition of such prayers, when I stop and let them soak in, allows me to explore what I’m actually praying. One of my most profound experiences while living at the Rutba House was as a result of trying to really live the prayer of St. Francis.
I’ve always loved the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer). I try to pray it daily, and we pray it as a community every Thursday. There are many wonderful arrangements of it in song, including one that will be a part of Common Prayer, and one by the Psalters, both of which I am moved by. For most of last year, I attended a primarily African-American Catholic Church in D.C. where we we sang the Our Father in an upbeat, gospel tune, another beautiful way to pray this ancient prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer has also been seen and used to pray for God’s justice–“thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”–invites God’s dwelling among us. People seen the plea for daily bread as an indicator of the enormous greed of so many. Daily bread was God’s provision to the Hebrew people in the desert; when we store up greedily, we deprive our brothers and sisters God’s abundant provision.
Today, as our community prayed together, I was struck again by the petition for daily bread. Receiving each day as a gift and being grateful for it is a challenging thing. I was probably struck by this phrase because at the beginning of our community meeting, one of our residents read from a Narcotics Anonymous book (N.A., similar to Alcoholics Anonymous). What I’ve appreciated about 12-step spirituality (despite it’s often cheesy slogans and one-liners) is its emphasis on today. Just as Jesus teaches us not to worry about tomorrow, AA spirituality says, “I am grateful to be clean and sober today.” “Just for today” is the title of a book of AA readings and is, as I see it, the underlying theme of 12-step spirituality. I cannot worry about being sober tomorrow, I must focus on who I am today, who God is inviting me to become. At the same time, I’ve noticed that this emphasis on today has helped our residents to become more truly grateful for the breath of life. They really do thank God for waking them up this morning, because (as my friends at St. John’s ‘Missionary Baptist church are fond of saying), “It coulda been the other way.” And they know it because they’ve tasted hell and death in the form of drug and alcohol addiction.
I am learning to be grateful just for today. As my grandfather has been in the hospital the last two weeks, it is easy to think about tomorrow, or a few weeks from now. What will happen to him? Where will he go when he gets out? When are the doctors going to move him? All these questions, while certainly legitimate, can make us forget today, being grateful for each day we have with my grandfather, whether it’s only a few more or many more. His illness has brought family from out of town that we rarely see, all together in the same room. I am trying to cherish the daily bread God provides, even if it’s manna and makes us say with the Israelites, “What is it?” We need the right lens, kingdom eyes, to see the mystery of God’s provision that sometimes isn’t apparent at first glance.
As I reflect on the fact that I cleared our summer garden last night in order to prepare for the fall, I am grateful for the many, many fruits that came of it (literally!). I must have picked over 600 cherry tomatoes, a few dozen cucumbers and large tomatoes, two cantaloupe, pounds and pounds of collard greens, dozens of squash/zucchini, several heads of lettuce, dozens of jalepeno and banana peppers, and some okra–not to mention 3 gigantic sunflowers, dozens of black-eyed susans, and other flowers and herbs. This abundance awakened in me a thankfulness for the things of the earth that it’s hard to summon without tangible fruit for one’s labors, especially this being a novice year for me in gardening, I was truly grateful for each thing that managed to find its way out of the soil despite my inexperienced hands. The garden, biblically, was where God taught Adam and Eve to trust in daily provision, and the garden imagery in Revelation reminds us that God will one day heal the effects of our inability to trust. I can only hope that as I plant again for the fall, I will be reminded to give God thanks for each day, all that is in it, and all the people God has given me to learn to love.