By Jake Hall
A lot of people learn the Lord’s Prayer early in their journey of faith. It’s one of those prayers that even people of no faith kind of know. This general awareness shapes public perceptions of Christianity from without and also our inner life from within every time we recited.
We’ve been talking a lot about the Prayer these past weeks in worship as we take each petition phrase by phrase and examine their impact.
These are important words. These words name our needs and living, human beings. They turn our attention to God, who exists both above and beyond us. At the same time, this Prayer connects us to those outside our family circle and beyond our group of friends.
The Prayer’s tense and tone may teach us much if we let it.
Cardinal Mezzofanti was a 19th-century scholar who never left Italy, yet spoke 39 languages. He attained fluency in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Coptic, Armenian, Persian,Turkish, Albanian, Maltese, Ancient Greek, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, English, Illyrian, Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Hungarian, Chinese, Syriac, Ge’ez, Amharic, Hindustani, Gujarati, Basque, Wallachian, Algonquin, to name a few, along with a few variants for good measure.
To learn a new language, Mezzofanti would translate the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed into his target language. He would find a native speaker and have them talk through the Lord’s Prayer until he learned the prayer through their words and in their dialect. This Prayer became an anchor for a new way of speaking and seeing. New languages are like that.
Inhabiting the Prayer in this way is helpful too when we are learning to speak God’s new language for the world. Even in English, these words teach us a new way to express and a new way to see the world.
I will see you on Sunday when we talk about what it means to pray for daily bread.