Teach Us to Pray

When the rabbi was asked by his students how to pray, he offered – among others – a powerful thought.

Now, for me to call him the rabbi is on purpose.  It’s on purpose because far too many have wielded Christianity as a weapon against people of other religions, Jews being among their longstanding targets.  Far too many have wielded Christianity as a weapon against Jews even when Christianity’s central avatar was an observant Jew teaching the tenets of the Jewish faith.

So, it’s really quite absurd on at least a couple levels.  It’s nonsensical to wield Christianity as a weapon against one’s history and it’s hypocritical to wield Christianity as a weapon against one’s neighbor.

So, for me to call him the rabbi is for me to say, "stop being absurd."  In fact, I might go so far as to say that if you want to be a good Christian, start by finding a good rabbi.

Now, I digress.

So, when the rabbi was asked by his students how to pray, he offered – among others – a powerful thought.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Now, I imagine that somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% of those watching this would admit to an experience of this great line as a request.

“Rabbi, teach us how to pray,” the students asked.

And we imagine the rabbi to have answered, “Dear God, somewhere out there, send us what we need.”

The line just as easily could have come from Oliver (you know, the musical), “Please sir, if you could just see your way to dusting a few crumbs over the edge of your cosmic table that I might eek out a few more hours of mediocre living.”

But contrary to the messages you received in Sunday school and contrary to centuries of questionable interpretation and mindless regurgitation that sourced the messages you received in Sunday School, I don’t think Jesus was teaching his students to beseech some distant entity for meager morsels that they might “eek out a few more hours of mediocre living.”

In fact, I don’t think Jesus’ great line was even a request.

Rather, in keeping with what he always seemed to be doing, I think Jesus was teaching his students how life works.  And, by the privilege of some extension, I think Jesus was teaching each of us how life works as well.

And the great line begins, “Give.”

And while we like to think of this in human terms that would reduce God to something of a Santa Claus, something of a vending machine in the sky, I think Jesus was suggesting that there is something that’s ever unfolding of itself.

“Give,” it begins.

There is something that’s ever expressing of itself.

There’s something that’s ever emanating of itself.

There’s something that’s ever individuating of itself.

And the great line goes on to say, “Give us.”

And the great line goes on to say, “Give us,” because this something that’s ever unfolding of itself cannot not unfold itself through its creation.  So, you are a point of awareness within this unfolding, and so am I, and so is all of life; and while western religiosity likes to feign a pious humility in our exemption from this truth, we aren’t exempt.

This something that’s ever unfolding of itself cannot not unfold itself through its creation and neither can its creation exist outside of its unfolding.  This awareness is what humans seek to articulate when we say, “I am a child of God.”

And how important is it to note that the great line doesn’t go on to say, “Give us Christians.”  The great line doesn’t go on to say, “Give us Catholics.”  The great line doesn’t go on to say (and you can fill in the blank here), “Give us straights, give us republicans, give us whites, give us wealthy, give us moderns.  Give us pious and perfect souls who have never made a mistake…”

The great line is one of the great inclusion lines, you see; it’s one of the great equality lines because it goes on to say without any additional qualification, “Give us.”

This something that’s ever unfolding of itself cannot not unfold itself through its creation and neither can its creation exist outside of its unfolding.

So yes, dear friends, this includes you.  And yes, dear friends, this includes everyone else.

You really are limitless.  And so is everyone else.

You really are divine.  And so is everyone else.

You really are light.  And so is everyone else.

You really are life unfolding itself through its creation.  And so is everyone else.

We’re all made of the same stuff, you see.  That God has favorites is a product of human psychology, not eternal truth.  Ultimately, this expanding awareness becomes the basis for compassion in our world.

And now, “Give us this day.”

And human beings don’t like this idea.  We want this something that’s ever unfolding of itself to give us tomorrow.  We are wildly comforted by the illusion that we have tomorrow handled.  We review our financial projections, we study our manicured plans, we relax in our predictable formulas.  We are wildly comforted by the illusion that we have tomorrow handled; and could there be a better time for me to put on my 10-gallon Dr. Phil hat and ask, “Well, how’s that working for you?”

When you kissed so-and-so at the drop of the 2020 ball and toasted in the new year, I imagine it safe to conclude that you didn’t foresee that how you shop was about to change, that how you work was about to change, that how you travel was about to change, that how you think was about to change.  I imagine it safe to conclude that you didn’t foresee that blowing out birthday cake candles was about to become a faux pas on par with tissue-free nose blowing.

We want this something that’s ever unfolding of itself to give us tomorrow’s resources.  We want this something that’s ever unfolding of itself to give us tomorrow’s wisdom.  We want this something that’s ever unfolding of itself to give us tomorrow’s satisfactions.  And not only does tomorrow have some plans of its own, in all of our egoic wanting, we all-too-often forgo the resources, the wisdom, the satisfactions - the daily bread, if you will - that await our availability and welcome, this day.

It was the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years who were given their daily sustenance but because they tried to store it, it spoiled.

Now, I don’t know about you.  But I have moments of feeling overwhelmed by these wild and wacky days.

From the dynamic conversations about systemic racism to the widening chasm of political divide to the sweeping fear of a global pandemic to the up-close-and-personal demands of running a non-profit organization – I have moments of feeling overwhelmed and because I talk to so many of you, I know I’m not alone.

Not only can I relate to wanting that something that’s ever unfolding of itself to give me tomorrow’s resources, tomorrow’s wisdom, tomorrow’s satisfactions, but I’ve imagined you to expect this of me as well.

Don’t you just love it when other people put their stuff on you?  Yeah, neither do I.

And yet when I opened this conversation by saying that the rabbi offered – among others – a powerful thought that I find comforting, it’s that I don’t have to have all of the answers.

I can return to this place and to this moment, where that which is ever unfolding itself through its creation awaits my availability with its daily bread.

I can return to this place and to this moment, where God awaits my availability with its what’s next.

I don’t have to have all of the answers.  But ah, what’s next?  I can do that.

Jesus was teaching us how life works.

Life gives us this day our daily bread.  Life gives me this day my daily bread.  There’s an affirmation for you.  Life gives me this day my daily bread.

I can free myself from any paralyzing clamoring for the illusion of tomorrow’s guarantees and pray:

Oh, great truth, in my longing to be something of a light amidst shadow, I simply ask: What’s next?  In my longing to be something of a peace amidst discontent, I simply ask: What’s next?  In my longing to be something of a sufficiency amidst lack, I simply ask: What’s next?  In my longing to be something of a unity amidst discord, I simply ask: What’s next?

Oh, great truth, In my longing to be something of possibility amidst limitation, something of a hope amidst despair, something of an evolution amidst stuck-ness, I simply ask: What’s next?

Ah, what’s next?  I can do that.  You can do that.