OUR (The Our Father, Word by Word)
This, to me, is one of the most startling words of the Lord’s prayer. Maybe the most startling.
I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be as remarkable to someone who came from a different cultural background, but I am an American and a Texan. I come from one of the most individualistic states in the most individualistic culture in the world. And even though I was an atheist in my youth, this cultural heritage deeply influenced my views about religion.
The Christianity that I grew up around very much had a “Jesus and me” flavor to it: you had your Bible, your personal relationship with Jesus, maybe a church community whose purpose was to help you grow in your personal faith, and that’s pretty much all you needed. Even the college kids who dabbled in Buddhism or Wicca approached their beliefs in a very individualistic way: Buddhist meditations were about retiring to a secluded place and focusing on your inner self; the Wiccans sought earth goddesses and cosmic energy as a kind of mystical self-help technique. I’d never seen another way of approaching faith.
This blindspot would end up being a critical roadblock to my belief in God.
“It makes no sense that God would make us jump through the hoops of finding him through the Bible or some church,” I’d say to my husband when I was first researching religion. “Why wouldn’t he just reveal himself to each of us individually? It would skip so much red tape and misunderstanding!”
In my hardwired Texan (not to mention prideful) mentality, I could not see any advantage to this inefficient system that made us go through the Bible and churches and word-of-mouth to get to God. Until I took a close look at the Our Father.
It’s plural. When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, he put the words of a collective prayer on their tongues. He instructed his followers to address their Father as a family.
Once I understood this, it answered so many of my questions. Yes, it would be more efficient if God simply revealed himself to each one of us and told us whatever we needed to know. But if he did that, what would happen? We would withdraw from one another. Our natural human tendencies toward selfishness and self-centeredness would creep in until we each lived on our own little islands. And so he came up with the perfect plan:
The entirety of God’s revelation to man occurs through other people. In other words: we have to draw near to one another to get to him.
Being an extreme introvert as well as an extreme individualist, it’s easy for me to slip into that “Jesus and me” mindset where I forget that I am part of God’s story (not vice versa), that my prayers should not be all about my own little world. At Mass I sometimes find myself irritable at the crowds and the packed parking lot, wishing I could just go off to some secluded chapel and sit alone. But then I hear that first word of the Our Father, and it serves as an instant reminder of the truth around which God has centered his entire system of revelation: We’re all in this together.