In her book, The Way of Perfection, Saint Teresa of Avila suggests spending an hour praying the Lord’s Prayer—also known as the “Our Father”—once through. I decided to try it at the computer, typing as I went. I then went back and edited it just enough to be understandable.
I am so angry with Clare! She and Sophie were each trying to tell me a story, and they remembered one key detail differently, and Clare’s version was probably right, it made more sense, but she was absolutely determined to shout Sophie down, and I told her over and over to let Sophie tell the story her way, and then Clare could tell it in hers, but she just defied me and would not stop interrupting Sophie, just insisting on shouting her down; why can’t Clare let someone disagree, why does she do that?
I remember when I was about 10, my cousin and I had been fishing in the morning and found a little back-eddy where we caught 14 fish within a half hour or so, boom, boom, boom one right after another, and you know how on summer days when you’re a kid and every moment is so full, and by the time the evening comes, the morning can seem like the day before? And my cousin was absolutely convinced that we had been fishing the day before, but he was wrong, I know he was wrong, but my big fat coarse redneck uncle said he was right and he didn’t want to hear any more about it, and good God, thirty-five years later I still get angry thinking about that, what the hell is the matter with me? And I swore I would never ever do that, that everybody gets to talk and everybody gets to say it their way and nobody has the right to stifle anybody, but of course if I had defied my parents like that, I’d have gotten hit, which I will also never do, so I piped down like I was told to, but God it burns me to this day, but I wasn’t telling Clare not to talk, just to let Sophie finish, why couldn’t she understand that, why wouldn’t she stop, why did she defy me like that, and why does it make me so angry, and what should I have done besides get mad and shout her down in turn, and why is it so important to her to be right, she’s only six? What have I done to deserve someone so much like myself, and how can I keep her from becoming as fucked up as I have become? My parents were always nagging me, nagging me, and I was a good kid—there were always so many bad things that other kids were doing and I wasn’t and I never seemed to get credit for that, only nagging for the ways in which I somehow failed to measure up; dear God, please please please don’t let me do that to my children! I was bitching about how Clare keeps grabbing food off the counter while I am cooking, and Allison said, “Don’t worry, she’ll grow up and leave home pretty soon;” God, I don’t appreciate her enough, either.
My college roommate lost his three-year-old son to cancer, remember? (Of course You do, that’s stupid.) My God–the last time I thought about that was before my own children were born; now, it’s beyond my capacity to imagine, she can steal all the grated cheese she wants to; my baby is already gone, someone stole her and replaced her with a kid, and when she was three she still yelled “Daddy!” and ran into my arms when I picked her up at daycare, and good God, if that little Daddy-adoring toddler had died, I think I’d have died with her, I’d have died for her, I’d have torn down the universe to keep it from happening, and now there’s this willowy six-year-old who pisses me off so much sometimes, where did the baby I used to make laugh in the bathtub by dribbling warm water onto her belly go? Dear God, do you love me like that? Half so much?
…in heaven, hallowed be your Name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
This I can picture, though I struggle with my tendency to imagine that it means that all the people who piss me off will just stop it, already–like what Screwtape said about other people’s “sins” meaning any of their actions which are annoying or inconvenient to ourselves. But I can see a world where the rich do not pick up the grapes or grain that fall to the ground, but leave them for the poor to glean, or some post-agrarian equivalent—if only all those people on the Gulf Coast could glean all that oil, I think it’s a crime for BP to be selling what they reclaim, they ought to give it away. I can imagine a world without Lady Gaga in a latex nun’s habit fellating a rosary, a world in which every baby is wanted from the moment of conception, a world in which no one emails Jim Wallace saying “I never realized that I could be a Christian and also care about the poor,” because they are taught that from the very beginning. I remember when Clare and Sophie were playing in that gazebo in the rose garden at Hershey Gardens, pretending it was their castle and the garden its grounds, and Clare said, “I’m going to give some gold to the beggars at the gate,” God, I love that kid, we must be doing something right! (I love Sophie, too, of course, though her response was “I’m off to meet my boyfriend!”, oh God, I am so screwed.) Maybe that’s where the Heaven thing comes in—when we all do Your will on the manifested plane as we all have it within us to do in unmanifested form, that will be on-earth-as-it-is-in-Heaven, Heaven being where You are, heaven-within-us now, but then us-within-heaven later, for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face, right?
Give us today our daily bread.
The hardest thing in the world for me—OK, one of the many hardest things in the world for me—is to trust, to consider the lilies. Oh me of little faith. What was it that Marianne Williamson said—“if a train doesn’t stop at your station, it’s not your train!” But what do I do? Chase down trains, flag them, force them to stop and take me on, then wonder why I don’t enjoy the ride, why I don’t get where I want to go. I just have to go out and get, do, make; I have no faith at all that anything good will happen unless I am breathing down the neck of life. And yet, every single thing that has come to me that I wanted came when I was looking the other way, when I wasn’t chasing after it at all…Maybe this is why everybody in every tradition emphasizes renunciation—because only by giving up everything can we be “as those owning nothing, yet possessing everything.” And I don’t really understand the idea of Providence; why should You give me my daily bread while others starve? What does it mean that I have some weight to lose while others don’t have enough to eat? “Lord, forgive us that we feast while others starve.” I suppose it probably doesn’t “mean” anything except that we who have are not sharing with those who have not—because we have no faith, we think we have to grab all we can and hold on, and if those people are starving it’s because of their bad choices; we make good choices, let God give them today their daily bread. That You might do that by our hands doesn’t seem to occur to us.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
I think I can do this; I think I can finally do this.
Everybody is so scared, Lord; we hurt and reject and devour each other because we are so afraid. When I used to go to academic conferences, I should have realized that I wasn’t meant for that world, because I was detached enough to look around and see how scared people are—everybody wants to seem smart, competent, good enough. We praise the emperor’s clothes so much that after a while, we really see them. Forgive us. How can I cherish hatred against people who are so afraid? Thank You, thank You for allowing me to see this. My Dad said to me that he’s about given up on things ever getting back to normal, but I think that things have always been a mess; maybe it’s the apparatus through which we experience the world that falls apart as we get older; maybe it becomes harder to believe that we know what’s right and we have to right to judge. Please, God—don’t let things get back to normal; I don’t want to be again that person who used to be so right while so many others were wrong. So many of the Psalms pray for a firm ground under our feet, for the Rock that is higher than I; does that prayer recur so often because You in Your mercy withhold that firm footing from which we, standing secure, are able to believe we have “arrived”? I’d rather be in transit my whole life than believe that. Never let me believe again that You created the things in others that hurt me; I know now that those things are those peoples’ defences which they have erected out of fear. Hecubah was right, wailing beneath the ruined walls of Troy: “Here lies a little child, slaughtered by the Greeks because they were afraid.” Forgive them; forgive me; forgive us all.
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.
Sri Ramakrishna said that if we pour milk into water, it cannot be retrieved, while butter will float in water without being lost in it; he said that if our minds are like milk, they will be lost in the world like milk in water, whereas if they are like butter, they can float over the world without being merged in it. When I read that, I finally, this late in the day, began to understand why we bother to continue asking You to deliver us from evil, because You plainly don’t, at least in the way we expect. Churn us, Lord, until we are rich enough to weather the world with integrity, until we can remain uncontaminated by it without being aloof from it, until we can be in it but not of it. You got down in the mud and breathed life into us; Jesus was born and lived an earthly life, tempted in every way as we are yet without sin. I know that we cannot escape evil, trial, temptation, testing; I no longer believe that You “deliver” us from those things by placing us in some kind of spiritual Smurf Village, with Gargamel prowling outside seeking whom he may devour. If we are not in the world, we cannot reach out the hand of love to those who are. Deliver us from forgetting who and Whose we are; let us walk through the evil of the world like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.
(Read the full version of this post at my blog, Little Teaboys Everywhere.)