Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Teach us to pray
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 21, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
We are all familiar with the Gospel scene which portrays Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his followers,” is the plea of the spiritually hungry hearts of his disciples.
This plea is not extraordinary in itself. In Jesus’ day, it was not at all uncommon for disciples to ask their favorite rabbi to teach them how to pray.
Thus, Jesus’ response is not extraordinary, either – even if, over the centuries, Christian tradition has over-dramatized this scene. Somehow I doubt that Jesus was ready to hand out holy cards with “The Lord’s Prayer” printed in bold letters. A little research would indicate that the words of the Lord’s Prayer are very similar to the litany of petitionary prayers used in Jesus’ day as part of the regular synagogue service.
To ask someone to teach them to pray is a bit extraordinary, especially if the plea comes from the heart. To ask the question is itself a confession of hunger, a spiritual yearning for communication with that Holy Mystery which enters so subtly but surely into our lives. It is a recognition that we are carried by a love relation larger than our own capacity.
Love seeks to converse, to dialogue, to share at a level beyond small talk and pleasantries. The yearning to pray is a similarly motivated desire to “connect.” To want to pray is one of the most basic of human desires. Unfortunately, the media and perhaps even our own stereotypes have turned this desire into something childish or less than dignified for adults. Yet we adults still come before the Lord with the childlike plea: Lord, teach us to pray.
In making this plea along with those early disciples of Jesus, we are risking our very selves. To ask to pray confesses our personal incompleteness and our need for God’s nourishing love. We need help in working through the mystery of life. Above all, we need to know that our individual lives somehow count in the vast eternal plan of God’s providence. We do not want to be lost.
Taking their request literally, Jesus teaches us, his disciples, how to pray. He does not merely give us a prayer to recite. While such written prayers may have their place in a Christian’s devotional life, they can easily lull us into the satisfaction that “saying our prayers” is sufficient. Prayer is born in the hunger of the heart, and it is best expressed from the heart as well. The prayer that Jesus recites in the Gospel passages which narrate this scene is a prayer that comes from the heart:
• a heart which is intimately close to God, close enough to approach that Mystery with the trust of a child before loving and caring parents;
• a heart which is open to the Reign of God, seeking its own personal share in whatever it is that God desires;
• a heart which seeks only what is truly necessary for the sustenance of life – no more, no less;
• a heart which expects to be treated by God in the same generous and understanding way that it treats its brothers and sisters;
• heart which knows its fragility, and seeks not to be led into the threat of temptation.
In this prayer Jesus opens his heart to us. He teaches us, too, how we should pray. Much food for thought here. Perhaps some of these “mutterings before the Lord” at the kitchen sink, or in the car, or on the way home from school are very much indeed the kind of prayer Jesus taught us. These spontaneous prayers come very much from the heart, and we should not shrug them off as less than worthy of our communication with the mystery of God’s presence in our lives. The Lord’s Prayer can (and should) be memorized, but its spirit is the criteria against which to check any aspect of our prayer life.
For anyone who asks, Jesus seeks to be a teacher of prayer.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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