I find that increasingly I’m forgiven for being grumpy. At my age it is almost as though people expect it of me. So I don’t disappoint them. One of my little ‘grumps’ is that people don’t trouble to remember things any more. They just get out their smart phone and look it up – addresses, phone numbers, where they live! Like many youngsters of the time I was brought up to remember poems, passages from Shakespeare plays, history dates, prayers and verses from the Bible. It didn’t do me any harm. It provided a little store of things treasured away in my memory to call on when needed. I remember Terry Waite said how much he valued having a store of remembered bible verses and prayers when it came to those terrible days of solitary imprisonment in Lebanon.
One prayer that people do still make an effort to remember is the Lord’s Prayer. In many church schools children are still encouraged to learn it by heart. But that doesn’t always work as it should.
My grandfather who was headmaster of a small primary school in Kent used to tell the story of the time a visitor came to the school and stood at the back of the hall during assembly. Afterwards, over a cup of tea he told my grandfather that when it had come to the Lord’s Prayer the children were saying; ‘Our Father, chart in heaven, hollering down the lane’. It was the best sense they could make of the words.
It still makes me smile and wonder what children have made of some of the things I have said in schools and churches. We all do our best to make sense of what we hear but don’t necessarily properly understand.
Could that happen with the Lord’s Prayer and adults? You bet it could, you bet it does. Knowing the Lords’ Prayer, even off by heart, isn’t the same as understanding it’s meaning. We live in an age when its imagined that knowing something, a fact, is the same as understanding its meaning. It isn’t.
Here is the most important prayer we could ever learn – a prayer taught us by Jesus himself. It doesn’t ramble on, it doesn’t use particularly difficult words. It is rich in meaning and spiritually important – it comforts and it challenges. But the very familiarity of the words means we so seldom stop to ask what they really mean – what they meant to Jesus, what they meant for his disciples, what they mean for us. Next time you use that prayer as part of your private prayer time don’t rattle it off. Say it slowly. Think about each phrase, what it means for you, for this day. And if you want a bit of help why not take a look at a book just published by Kevin Mayhew: ‘The challenge of the Lords’ Prayer.’ It could make more sense than ‘hollering down the lane’.