Too precious … why?

@AkensidePress posted a dictum of St. Benedict that provoked my contradiction:

@AkensidePress then made the mistake to ask why:

So here’s why:

St. Benedict suggests that the Lord’s prayer, said twice daily, cleanses faults. To me this sounds like a prescription, or like „brush your teeth at least twice a day“. I feel uncomfortable that a prayer, especially the Lord’s prayer, should be used in a similar way.
Well, why shouldn’t a prayer be used in this manner, especially, if it is prescribed by a saint – a saint who knows what he’s talking about?

1) Jesus introduces His prayer because he doesn’t want his followers to pray using „vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking“ (Mt 6:7 KJV). The greek verb translated as „vain repetitions“, battalogéo, is very rare and therefore hard to define. It’s probably derived from words like báttalos which means „stammerer“. It therefore describes the repetition of meaningless syllables. So Jesus could either have wanted his followers to use a short prayer instead of making too many words, or he could have wanted them to pray „by heart“, to think about what they are saying. But according to Ulrich Luz (in his commentary on Matthew, EKK I/1, pp 430-432), neither is the case, because the Logion continues v. 8: „your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him“ (KJV). Luz therefore concludes: „The main theme of our logion is not length, but God’s answer to the prayer.“ (431) God’s love is with his people before they ask him (compare Is 65:24).

It’s an interesting fact (that leads away from our theme a bit) that Mat 6:7-8 is kind of opposing 1Thess 5:17, where the apostle asks his readers to „pray without ceasing“. That’s worth considering – in another blogpost … But obviously there’s a main difference: does believing in God involve a literally „living“ in prayer (which leads to the Jesus Prayer of the orthodox church that is prayed incessantly like a mantra and is supposed to finally go on all by itself, unconciously, synchronous with breathing and heartbeat)? Or does believing in God mean trusting in God’s love that knows our needs before we utter them – and that has forgiven us before we ask for forgiveness?

I think the difference is the all-too-human wish to do something for one’s relationship with God, to induce or mediate the relationship with God by doing something for it (like praying). Although it seems harder to pray regularly, to pray often or even incessantly, I believe it is harder to let everything come from God without participating in letting it come, without the good feeling that I did something to „earn“ this relationship.

So, the Lord’s prayer is „too precious“ because I am not supposed to use it as a means to fulfil my wishes, how good and pious they might be.

2) Benedict suggests the use of the Lord’s prayer to cleanse faults. It’s interesting that the moravian watchword for today is John 8:10-11: „When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.“ (KJV) Jesus doesn’t order the woman to say prayers – or even His prayer -, but to „sin no more“. When the bible talks about cleansing faults, it expects change, reversion, not compensation. God doesn’t want and doesn’t need to be „paid“ for his forgiveness, neither does he want to punish us for what we’ve done (imagine prayer as a kind of „punishment“! – that’s perverting prayer!). God wants much more: he wants us to change our lives. He wants us to go to those we’ve hurt – that’s much, much harder than saying a few prayers.
Again, to think that cleansing my faults in the face of God will „do the trick“ is not what God wants from us. God wants us to get it right with the one we’ve hurt, to get things right so people don’t need to suffer. A person that prays hard may be a very pious person, a lover of God. But it may well be otherwise: that this person has neither the courage to believe that she is loved as she is, nor the courage to confront herself with what she has done and bear the consequences – knowing that, even if people can’t forgive her, God has done it long ago.

The Lord’s prayer is too precious because it doesn’t spare me to change myself and my life. Instead, it assures me that I am forgiven in the same way I manage to forgive others (and ask others to forgive me, one should add).


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