“Lord, teach us to pray.” I don’t know her real name, she called herself Kat. She’s probably in her mid 30’s, but she looks a lot older. Kat has been an active alcoholic since her teens, and has been on the streets for a lot of that time. I met Kat at the Barbara McInnis House, a health care and respite center for the homeless in Boston. It’s located on Albany Street, across from the Boston Medical Center. I was leading the Sunday Service there, and I noticed that Kat seemed fidgety, couldn’t sit still, but she also seemed to be trying hard to be attentive to the Service. When others left at the end, Kat stayed behind to speak with me.
She wanted to know why God wasn’t answering her prayers. She was raised Roman Catholic, considers herself to be faithful, for the most part, but she was angry and upset that God wasn’t listening to her prayer. She said, “I’m at the point where I’m beginning to think this religion stuff is all fake, all a scam, just like everything else in my life. Either God isn’t listening, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t exist.” Lord, teach us to pray.
Now, you don’t have to be homeless, or an alcoholic, or in a desperate situation to experience that same spiritual and emotional upheaval that Kat was going through. We’ve all had those moments of struggle, moments of doubt. Moments of wondering if there really is anyone or anything out there.
Kat’s request was, God, take this addiction away from me. It seems simple and very understandable. Here is a woman in pain, enslaved to an addiction that’s destroying her spirit, her mind and her body.
What kind of God do we worship who ignores such a desperate plea? Is it God’s will that she remain an alcoholic, continue to live on the streets, continue to be abused and attacked as an easy target? Lord, teach us to pray.
How do you pray? Who taught you to pray? Remember? “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Or, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Or even, “In nomeni Patri, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti.”
How about, “Shema Israel”, or “Allah u Akbar”. We all have a prayer life, a prayer history. I believe, even if you grew up without any religious training or influence whatsoever, you have a prayer history. To me, anyone who has taken a math test, or a GMAT or LSAT must have uttered a prayer. Anyone who really, really, really loves those special ice cream cones, the kind that sell out really quickly, you know how to pray when the ice cream truck comes around. “Oh, please, let me get an A!” Oh, please let me have a successful job interview!” “Oh, please, let her or him like me!”
Thomas Merton tells us that prayer is “the communion of our freedom with God’s ultimate freedom. Anne Lamont writes that she has two basic prayers; “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” and “Help me, help me, help me!”
In today’s Gospel, the apostles, after following Jesus for two or three years, watching him pray several times a day and before performing miracles, finally ask him how should we pray? Being human, just like us, they want to be sure they are doing it right!
So, Jesus gives them this simple prayer, probably the first prayer we learn, and for many of us, the last one we will hear. It’s very important, in that it’s not only a beautiful prayer, but it’s also a form, an outline we can use and make our own. Jesus teaches us how to pray, and what to pray for.
The prayer starts out by acknowledging that we are already in an intimate relationship with that which created all things, seen and unseen. Just think of that for a moment. You, right now, are directly connected with the power of perfect light, infinite life, and ultimate freedom and love. And, if that’s not enough, you are related to, you belong to, and you are responsible for each other and all of God’s creation! Wow! Talk about blowing your mind!
And that’s just the first words, Our Father! Don’t worry. I won’t go through the prayer word by word.
There are whole books written about this prayer, and I also have a family I’d like to get home to sometime today!
So, after recognizing our unbreakable, inseparable relationship with God, we then acknowledge that God IS God. We admit that we are not God, and we should not confuse our leaders with God. By recognizing God as God, we can ask God to take charge of our lives. We can give up those ideas that our lives have to be perfect, all our decisions have to be correct. As the expression goes, we can let go, and let God! We can also begin to understand that only God, working through us, can bring about justice and peace to our world.
Justice and peace come from God, not from the guy we heard from last week, or the woman we’ll hear this week.
We then acknowledge our dependence on God for the gifts of God: food, forgiveness and fidelity – all essential to our lives as individuals, and as a church, and as a world. Again, all these gifts are ours because of that intimate relationship we have with the Creator.
So we acknowledge our unbreakable relationship with God and Creation, and we recognize the power of God who sustains us, forgives us and is always faithful to us. That’s quite a prayer!
Jesus then goes on to explain how God is always there, always waiting for us to check in.Jesus tells us that even our best friends, even our families, may let us down, ask us to come back later, maybe tell us that now isn’t a good time.
As human beings, we have certain limitations and needs in our own lives. These limitations are perfectly reasonable and understandable. And that’s why we have such a hard time believing in God’s accessibility, God’s openness to us.
Jesus also tells us that God DOES answer us by supplying what we need to overcome the obstacles in our way, by giving us what’s best for us. Because of God’s love for us, God will give us whatever we need to make us complete, to restore us to the community of God; not necessarily what we ask for in our very limited, very human understanding.
So, where does all this leave Kat? Why does it seem like God is not answering her prayer? I don’t know. I’m not so bold as to think I understand the mind of God. But this much I do know. I know that God loves Kat, and wants the best for her. Kat is God’s child.
Perhaps Kat needs to understand the abundance of gifts God is already providing for her. To see that she is now off the streets and not drinking. That she is surrounded by people with the skill and knowledge to help her. That she is, indeed, a child of God, and as such, she is entitled to dignity and respect, even self-respect.
Perhaps Kat, just like all of us, needs to be more open to the healing power of God, who sustains us forgives us and is always faithful to us.
That is my prayer for Kat. That is my prayer for you. That is my prayer for the world. Lord, hear my prayer!