image: Prayer by Graham Dean, see http://paintingandframe.com/prints/graham_dean_prayer-8947.html
We have to abandon all claims to know, and opt instead for the choice of seeking to learn, admitting that we have much to learn, and humble enough to allow that seeking to learn can include, yes, simply asking.
The door is low. It takes humility to ask God for anything, or even to speak to God at all. It is surprisingly difficult to do. Much of what gets said “to” God is probably mere vapour and vanity; a form of talking to oneself. But in this setting there is no place for idle speech. In this setting much of what is said disappears into nothingness the moment it is uttered, because here only truth will do. There is no possibility to delude or confuse or mislead or flatter or get an angle or impress. This is much more difficult than you might imagine, because it is surprisingly difficult to turn up to your own prayer. I mean “turn up” in the sense of “be present at”. You can always mouth some statements, of course, but in this very particular use of our powers of speech (silent or vocalized), all speech turns to vapour, vanity, pomposity and self-delusion if we don’t in fact mean what we say, or if what we say is an attempt at magic, or an attempt to make the universe revolve around ourselves. To get utterly away from self-centredness is hard to do and hard to sustain. But it is also refreshing—refreshing to try to show and state what we honestly see, and refreshing to take steps towards a better perspective.
One of the important phrases that we have been taught is “may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. That is a translation, of course, and one that perhaps no longer quite works, because the words “on Earth” sound parochial, and the word “heaven” has become overlaid, over the centuries, with popular mythology, much of it nothing to do with first-century Jewish thought or anything you can find in the Bible. Nowadays the word “heaven” means, for many people, “make-believe”, and for many others it means some sort of place of escape. But neither of those is what Jesus was talking about, and this is why the traditional translation has become, I think, misleading. What the word was about, in its original context, was utter truthfulness and reality—the sort of reality on which we can utterly depend, because it is the reality from which the universe has sprung. The phrase “may Your will be done in the created world … as it is in heaven” means something like “may Your aims come to fruition in the created world … mirroring ultimate reality.” It means, roughly, “may the world which we shape by our choices be a voluntary reflection and realization of Your priorities”—which is to say, the priorities of truth, justice, right perspective, and the utterly dependable fact that love is the final reality. The word “Shamayim” is not about something guessed at and cloudy, where people possibly go after death. I repeat: it is not about that. It is about the unbreakable support of the universe, more dependable than rock.
But that which is unbreakable turns out to be that which chooses to be broken.