The gospel for Tuesday April 26th is from Matthew and gives the instruction:
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The gospel then goes on to give its readers what has become ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ I have known that prayer nearly all my life. When I was not quite two years old, my mother decided she should get me ‘done’ at the local Episcopal Church after having been away from the faith for several years after college. It was the beginning of a long involvement with the church for her from Sunday School teacher to ordained priest. However, all of that lay in the future the first time I heard the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, like the act of reading or walking, I have no conscious memory of learning the liturgy of the Episcopal Church and parts of both Rite I and II rise unbidden in my memory at the oddest times.
One of my favorite passages in the new New Testament is from the verse just before today’s reading, Matthew 6:5-6:
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I had not realized that it led into a further admonition to keep prayer short and sweet and not ‘bother’ God (who ‘knows what you need before you ask’) and that this whole section of Matthew contains many of my favorite ideas about prayer, alms-giving, and fasting. They are guidelines I use to this day to suss out people who are using their ‘faith’ to manipulate others and steal the time, talent, and treasure that was meant for God’s work on earth. In general, I find that the louder someone proclaims their faith the more likely they are among the most faithless.
However, that is almost a side note to the real value I find in Matthew 6. For me, this passage reminds me that it is easier to hear God, if I am still and listen. It is difficult to hear if I am always the one doing the talking. My most powerful experiences of God have been when I have been in some way struck dumb. Powerful emotion, traveling in a country where I don’t speak the language, or just sitting quietly in a holy place (sometimes a church, sometimes the wilderness) are all moments when I have felt the overwhelming power of God in my life.
I believe that this section of Matthew has been one of the most directly shaped my own faith. The Lord’s Prayer in its many translations and interpretations is deep in my bones and no matter how many times I hear it or say it, it speaks to me and reminds of of Matthew’s ideas of leaving space for God to speak in my own silence.
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: By تسلیم – by scan, Public Domain,