Intimacy and Revolution: an Advent meditation on "Our Father" by N. T. Wright
|"Shepherds" (Jim Janknegt)|
(I was quite encouraged by my reading this morning from N. T. Wright’s book, The Lord and His Prayer. As an academic, I spend my days with words and I am drowned by words on the Internet, as I rummage around for suitable classroom illustrations and as I sometimes lose myself in endlessly interesting but often trivial rabbit trails, which I justify to myself as moments of "consequential discovery." What I crave, in light of this rush and clang of words, is the discovery of one good word, one good phrase that says what needs to be said, that says what my heart is trying to tell my poor head but which my head is incapable of hearing because it is clogged up for all sorts of reasons. In this excerpt from Wright's reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, he offers me that one good phrase, which I thought might be worth sharing with others, too. The fact that it connects to our current season of Advent is not coincidental. I would certainly encourage you to get a copy of the book yourself. It’s quintessential Wright, and quite good.)
N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (pp. 8-10), "Our Father in Heaven"
We live between Advent and Advent; between the first great Advent, the coming of the Son into the world, and the second Advent, when he shall come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. That’s why Advent is sometimes quite confusing, preparing for the birth of Jesus and at the same time preparing for the time when God makes all things new, when the whole cosmos has its exodus from slavery.
That apparent confusing, that overlap of the first and second Advents, is actually what Christianity is all about: celebrating the decisive victory of God, in Jesus Christ, over Pharaoh and the Red Sea, over sin and death—and looking for, and working for, and loving for, and praying for, the full implementation of that decisive victory. Every Eucharist catches exactly this tension. ‘As often as you break the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim, you announce, the death of the Lord—until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
We come for our daily, and heavenly, bread; we come for our daily, and final, forgiveness; we come for our daily, and ultimate, deliverance; we come to celebrate God’s kingdom now, and to pray for it soon. That is what we mean when we call God “Father.”
And as we do this, as we pray this prayer in this setting, we begin to discover the true pattern of Christian spirituality, of the Christian way of penetrating into the mystery, of daring to enter the cloud of unknowing.
When we call God “Father,” we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray.
But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed.
And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos—then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.
This, then, I dare say, is the pattern of Christian spirituality. It is not the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement. It is not the flight of the alone to the alone. It is neither simply shouting into a void, nor simply getting in touch with our own deepest feelings, though sometimes it may feel like one or other of these.
It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world; of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God “Father.”
|"The Night Visitors" (Janet McKenzie)|