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Speaking to the Soul: Carry On and Keep Praying

Speaking to the Soul: Carry On and Keep Praying

by Linda McMillan


Jesus’s message about prayer is less about the words, “Our father… hallowed be… thy kingdom… give us… forgive us…” It is much  more about this:  You already know how to do it. 


Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”


Everyone can sing. Can we all just agree to that? Sure, some people sing better than others, and some people probably shouldn’t sing… at least not in public; but, everyone can open their mouth and sing to some degree or another.


prayerThough you don’t need lessons to sing, and some people can even sing quite well without them, when my students heard that I was singing at a night club in Jing’An there was a rousing chorus of, “Teacher, teach us to sing!” No amount of, “You already know how to sing…” would convince them. They wanted lessons. They wanted to do it correctly.


Of course, that’s silly. But, many of us are the same way when it comes to praying. We want lessons. We want to do it correctly. It’s a noble enough sentiment, but fairly well misses the point. Just like with singing, we already know how to pray, we don’t need lessons.


In today’s lectionary reading the disciples were a little like my students. They had seen Jesus praying and they wanted to pray too. They wanted to pray like Jesus, to pray correctly. After all, John had taught his disciples how to pray, the synagogue had prayers, they should have some prayers too. They may have been expecting Jesus to tell them something they didn’t know. And, given the number of books on prayer — over half a million on Amazon alone —  it may be that all of us are looking for some new and esoteric knowledge which will put us over the top in the spirituality game. Alas, Jesus only taught his disciples what they already knew, and I suspect he wouldn’t have anything new for us either.


Jesus started out with a beginning that the disciples would have recognized from the prayers they already knew, “Our Father… hallowed be thy name….” The very beginning of the Kaddish begins, “Magnified and sanctified be his great name…” The Kedusha says, “We hallow Thy name on earth, even as it is hallowed in heaven…” There was nothing new there.


He moved on to “Thy Kingdom come…” which also would have been familiar. Familiar, but also problematic. It was already being prayed by John’s disciples and the Essenes who were looking for the messiah. But the disciples believed that Jesus was the messiah, and his kingdom must be where he is. Right? So, Jesus expanded on the idea of, “May thy kingdom come quickly,” as the Essenes prayed, and he said simply, “Thy Kingdom come,” something he talked about a lot but never explained. Kingdom, though, would not have been just an earthly reign, but also the kind of spirit which allows for such. So, somehow, the disciples were left praying for that which they believed had already happened. That is pretty much the situation we find ourselves in today.


We are praying, after all. But, things seem to be getting worse and worse. The one thing we don’t want to hear today is that there are no magic words, no special formula. Jesus’s message about prayer is less about the words, “Our father… hallowed be… thy kingdom… give us… forgive us…” It is much  more about this:  You already know how to do it.


Despite all those books that have been written since Jesus gave this famous prayer, despite having the Book of Common Prayer, and despite many years of trying, here is the totality of what I know about prayer:


Jesus did it. He told us to do it. We already know how to do it.


The way I know that we already know how to pray, that we have all the special knowledge we need, also comes from the Our Father.  It’s in the phrase, “Give us this day…” Only a person of little faith prays for tomorrow’s food because everybody knows that the god who made the day also provides the necessities for the day. It is thought that the Israelites in the wilderness didn’t have much faith because of their constant worry about what to eat tomorrow. Proverbs, teaches us to pray for our apportioned bread, the bread we need for each day.


Thus, I know that if God has made this day, and God has told us to pray, God has also provided us with all we need to pray. No special knowledge is required. If it were, we’d have it.


In my travels around the world and the church, I have seen at least a hundred ways to pray, and I’d guess that there are at least a thousand ways more. Which way is correct? Who is doing it right? Should we sit, or stand? Maybe we should kneel? Should we pray on the hills, in the church, or alone in our rooms? I suspect it’s a lot like singing: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jessye Norman, and I are all doing it — add to that at least a million others, and maybe you too. We are all doing it differently and we are all doing it right.


You can pray prayers that are already written, you can write your own, or you can just sit quietly. Sometimes I think that singing is a kind of prayer, and I know musicians who pray through their instruments as surely as if they were a rosary. Sometimes I think that just listening carefully is a prayer.


Whatever form your own prayer takes, it’s just right. You can relax about how to do it, you don’t need lessons. You already have all you need to pray in the way that God intends for you to pray. The message for today, then, is carry on and keep praying. You can sing too.


Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. She is a native of Texas. She is currently traveling. In her dreams she sings like Sister Rosetta.


Image: Maria By Carl Strathmamn –  Public Domain, boy lighting candle by Linda McMillan in Bangkok


Some Notes of Possible Interest


You’ll find a lot of what I’ve said in Jewish Liturgy and its Development, by Abraham Zebi Idelsohn. I wasn’t able to consult my copy because it’s in Texas and I am in Thailand… Not very helpful. It’s not available for Kindle. But, it’s a good little book. It’s not light reading, I’ll tell you honestly, but a good reference if you’re into that sort of thing.


A more readily accessible article is in The Jewish Encyclopedia, which is on the internet, and it’s reliable. You can read the article about the Our Father here. 



The Kedusha is the third part of a longer prayer called the Amidah. There are different ways to pray it: Aloud or silently, with a minyan or alone. Talk to your rabbi about how to include this prayer in your life.


Proverbs 30:8 – Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me only with the food that is my portion


If you read the Our Father in Greek you will see that the word which gets translated as “daily” is not the word you’d expect. You’d expect, “hemeran,” instead, it’s “episouois,” which is maybe more like “super necessary.” But, let people who are better qualified than me explain it to you. Just something to look for and be aware of.

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