THIS (Our Father, Word by Word)
by Marc Barnes
I’m happy to say I got the very best word to reflect on. I am of the belief that this was due to my good looks and great humility – for it certainly wasn’t due to my ability to meet a deadline – but I could be wrong, for Brandon Vogt is one stud of a writer, and he didn’t get my marvelous word. Whatever the reason, my word is this: “this”. And the word itself is certainly beautiful; a big, strong, manly affirmative. But in truth, he cannot be separated from his lawfully-wedded object: “day”. This day. Thus, the question we noble dissectors of the Our Father must ask is simple: what does “this” do to “day”?
First, it makes it immediate, present. It is not “give us on Sunday”, or “give us later” or “give us soon” our daily bread, it is give us this day our daily bread, and hurry please. Because God cannot not meet us soon, or later, or on Sunday, only when it is. “This” makes C.S Lewis’ statement, that “the Present is the point at which time touches eternity”, something we make sense of every day. Our prayer confesses that God loves us immediately, in the present moment and as our prayer goes, our lives must follow.
It is true that the two most important times in the life of a Christian are the present moment and his hour of death, for all else is speculation and reflection. So when we go through life, let us take this day, seize it, kill it, experience it to the fullest, not only because it’s fulfilling, and holy, and the only way towards immense joy, but because we cannot experience anything else! So often we ask ourselves, faces fixed in some I-have-big-important-plans-and-lots-of-potential grimaces, “What are we to be when we grow up?” And sure, it’s a responsible question. But the truth all Ivy-league life-planners have to wake to and face is this: You are always only who and when you are. (Feel free to read that twice). You will never grow up, only continue to be. And if you must ask that horribly responsible question, I demand it be followed up by the infinitely more important and reckless question, “who am I this day?” For when you die and stand before the throne of judgement, God will not ask for your future plans, He will ask “Who are you?” He will not endeavor to find out whether you planned on getting to know Him, he will ask whether or not you know Him. So know Him.
All this reiterates the fact of conversion and reconciliation, that it is crap to say, “I will start living my faith as soon as I get a handle on this sin, these addictions, this pain, this distrust.” No, God calls us this sinful, broken day. Too often we think we have to be perfect to practice this whole religion thing, that our sins and mistakes are the present moment and God is the future. How can we nourish ourselves with the scriptures if we’re also feeding on pornography? How can we engage in our daily prayer if we happen to be selfish jerks? But the strength of “this” bids us — immediately — to push through our own sin and into God’s marvelous light. There is no disclaimer on the Our Father, no “give us this day, unless we suck, our daily bread.” No, we call on God this day, in the very midst of all gone wrong.
Then, “this” makes us arrogant, presumptuous punks. If our Protestant, evangelical culture has done anything for prayer, it has made it polite. So in tune are we with the will of God that our prayer flows beautifully, gemstones from our tongues, “God if it be your will, please conform my heart to your plan for me, I invite your grace into my life, to have you speak a word into my heart” and so on and thus forth, until the angels weep at the sheer beauty and correctness of our petitions. And there is a place for this prayer. But if there is anything I have against Protestantism, it’s not the church signs, it’s that it has taken all the protest out of religion. My Calvinist friend told me, “the problem with you Catholics is that you make God too human,” and sure, it may be wrong for the Irish to rant and rave at God like he is a judge, to barter with him like he is a merchant, and it may be theologically foolish for me to demand healing for a friend like I am owed it, but surely, surely it is equally wrong to pray like Our Lord is inhuman. Surely, we are made in the image and likeness of God, surely there is a place to — as the psalmist says — cry from the guts. Surely God meant what he said when he told us to be persistent, to knock on the door until the judge gets up, to see Him as our father, to see Christ as our brother, to scream our frustrations to him, to say “give us this day!” like we mean it, like we demand it, like we will absolutely not leave until we are satisfied.
For “this” does just that. It gives the phrase the impolite air of demand. Give us, right now, your sustenance. There is no please. There is a “this”, an urgency to our request, as if we were a crowd of hungry peasants chanting outside Versailles, “We want bread and we want it now!” All this boldness towards God would be blasphemy, were it not requested by Him. So what does “this” say about God? It says that he absolutely refuses to be limited. He refuses to become sort of fate, an obscure spirit-being that predestines us from the beginning of time to heaven or hell, and sits while we try to “conform our hearts”. Rather, he is our lover, our savior. We are to speak with him, remind ourselves of his promises, yell “where are you?”, touch him in the Eucharist, taste him on our tongues, let him inform our decisions, guide our ways, invade our dreams. He reaches out from the infinite and batters our hearts in the present moment, in the “This”. He is, after all, Our Father.
Marc Barnes is the author of one of my favorite new-to-me blogs, Bad Catholic. If you’re not reading it, you should be. And you’ll fall off your chair when you find out how young he is.