Noticings – February 1, 2023


February 1, 2023

One of our congregants asked me recently about the Lord’s Prayer. Their question was about why we’ve added in the words “and Mother” in the first line when we say it in church on Sundays. I had adopted that phrase (Our Father and Mother who art in heaven) some time ago, and over time it found its way onto the screens. My short answer to the query is simply that it’s more inclusive. For some, the imagery of God as Father is unhelpful, or even hurtful. By adding “and Mother” it immediately takes away the exclusive idea that God is somehow only ‘male’ in the traditional sense, or limited by human gender at all. I accept that referring to God as “Mother” can also have a discombobulating effect on some folks. It’s challenging to balance all the different needs in church.
Perhaps we could avoid all that if we looked to Genesis chapter 1 where God is referenced as a plural entity. Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image.” Ancient Hebrew didn’t have the concept of a ‘royal we’, so something else is going on there. Perhaps we should refer to God as ‘They’? Wouldn’t that be fascinating?! It would certainly reflect our Affirming status. My actual preference would be to begin the prayer by saying “Our Holy Parent” and eliminate the problems of both gender and the “in heaven” language which suggests God’s distance or absence rather than the ‘right-here-ness’ of God’s Presence. But “Our Holy Parent,” while beautifully inclusive and non-gendered, is completely unfamiliar, and wouldn’t initially be perceived as a cue for the congregation to join in.
It’s in ways like these that theology, and tradition, and liturgy are always evolving and deepening. Sure, we could do it the familiar ‘old’ way. But not much of life is lived in the ‘old’ way, and lots of it is increasingly unfamiliar. Our choices are to dig in our heels or to find a way to go with the flow. Again, finding a helpful liturgical balance is tough.
I encourage everyone to try to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer in their own interpretive language. It can be a powerful exercise. Make it your own. Wrestle with how you’d phrase what you think it’s trying to say. It has become our central prayer. If we just parrot the words we’ve memorized are we really praying anything? Then again, the familiar rhythms of rituals and words can be very comforting and spiritual. (Did I mention that balance is hard in church?)
To get you thinking more about this, here is a beautiful version of the Lord’s Prayer by Parker Palmer who comes from the Quaker tradition:
Heavenly Father, heavenly Mother,
Holy and blessed is your true name.
We pray for your reign of peace to come,
We pray that your good will be done,
Let heaven and earth become one.
Give us this day the bread we need,
Give it to those who have none.
Let forgiveness flow like a river between us,
From each one to each one.
Lead us to holy innocence
Beyond the evil of our days —
Come swiftly Mother, Father, come.
For yours is the power and the glory and the mercy:
Forever your name is All in One.
(Click here for a video version of Noticings)
Rev. Larry