Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Lord's Prayer

You all know I go to 12-step meetings. As a standard part of the meeting, we start each one with a moment of silence and the Serenity Prayer:

God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.


That's not a bad thing. I don't have any problem with it at all. I know that it is the abbreviated version of a longer prayer, but the longer one includes some stuff about Jesus and I'm just as glad we don't use it. If you want to see the full version, click HERE. I have no idea who that therapist guy is, it was the first site that came up in my google search.

So. That's an easy little prayer that is not terribly loaded with specific religious language or imagery. But then we generally end with The Lord's Prayer, otherwise known as the "Our Father." And that one DOES have a fair amount of Christian imagery and language in it.

A year or more ago, I stopped praying the Lord's Prayer at the end of meetings. I was not Christian, I figured, so it seemed silly for me to be saying "thy kingdom come," if I did not believe in a god that was part monarch. I'd still stand and hold hands around the circle, which is how we do things here, but I would silently offer my own prayer, generally another round of the shortened Serenity Prayer and some gratitude for the fellowship of my program and a request to help me be healthy and sane and helpful to others. It was not always the same, but I figured so long as I was doing something beyond looking at my shoes, it counted for good, right?. If anyone noticed that I was not making any noise, nobody said anything.

But then I met a minister who has become a friend, and as we talk about this and that, I learned that she will pray the Our Father, not necessarily on her own, but with people who ask her to do it - maybe they're in the hospital, or in some kind of need, and they want a minister and they want a familiar, comforting prayer to say. She never learned it until she began her practical experience as part of her seminary studies, but she knows it now and will pray it with people when they ask. Oh, and this minister is not a Christian.

So here is a person who is not Christian, but who can and will pray the Our Father. So what makes me so special that I won't? I don't know. But it seems to be a thing that causes conflict within me. It brings to mind all of that negative, oppressive stuff from my Catholic upbringing, standing in mass, reciting the Lord's Prayer and much more with not much feeling or meaning, but mumbling the words along with the priest. There was a lot we mumbled along with the priest, and a lot of it I do not agree with. A lot of the rituals and language from the Catholic mass are things that I oppose now. I remember the Profession of Faith, which we said after the priest's sermon. I remember the things we said as the priest consecrated the Eucharist and the wine -- things about being unworthy for redemption and asking for forgiveness for our humanity.

Those things go against everything I believe now. I believe now that all humans deserve to have good things happen to them, and if that includes getting into a pleasant place in the afterlife, then so be it. I believe that we ARE all worthy. I do NOT believe in one holy and apostolic church, actually, for those who are unfamiliar (and I am going to bet that most of you do not know the prayer I am talking about) here is the text of the Nicene Creed Profession of Faith.

Nicene Creed - Profession of Faith

We believe in God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfilment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.



This prayer is said at every mass, every funeral, every wedding and every baptism. It is an integral part of the Catholic religious experience, and of my childhood. It is the creed of the church, it is the clear enumeration of the beliefs of Catholics, and it is required of them. And it causes tension in my chest to read it silently through. It does not allow for debate, it does not allow for dissent, it does not allow for freedom of thought, or to question or wonder. These are the rules and we believe them. Period.

So with that feeling in my chest, I offer you the prayer that we generally use to close our meetings:

The Lord's Prayer Words


Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever.


(King James Bible AD 1611)


One of the cool things about being friends with a minister is that I can talk about my thoughts and feelings around a prayer or concept and get feedback that is both gentle and challenging, as well as educational. When I told her of my conflict with the above prayer, she sent me a very cool link to a website that explores the origins of the prayer, has an audio clip of the original prayer spoken in Aramaic, and over half a dozen versions and translations. It seems that King James printed something that was not even close to the ancient version. Here's one of my favorites. It is the Nazarene Transliteration, and the audio sound byte you hear on that site is this, spoken in Aramaic:

Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes, who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.
Let Your will come true - in the universe (all that vibrates) just as on earth (that is material and dense).
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily need, detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma) like we let go the guilt of others.
Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations), but let us be freed from that what keeps us from our true purpose.
From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act, the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)


Now THAT is some cool shit. That is ancient and true and it does not feel to me like it carries the weight of oppression that the more modern version does. To me, this is a prayer for strength and forgiveness, asking for wisdom and guidance and offering a promise to try. Isn't that what a prayer is supposed to be?

So as part of this exploration thing I am doing, I have begun saying the Lord's Prayer at the end of meetings again. Just to see what it feels like. Right now it still feels foreign, kind of, and a little strange. It is familiar, but still not comfortable.

I also need to explain here that being different can be very dangerous for an alcoholic. Every one of us can tell stories about how we thought we were different, that rules applied to others but not us, how we believed that nobody knew or could understand our situation. Terminal uniqueness, we call it, and it is a dangerous trap for us. There is a much longer discussion and explanation of that concept than I have time or space for here today, but trust me, please. Being special and unique is great in the regular world, but in the world of 12-step recovery, we need to divest ourselves of all vestiges of our egos. I am no better or worse than the next drunk sitting in a folding chair and drinking coffee. I am not superior, nor am I inferior. I just am. So, within the halls of my meetings, it is best for me to understand that what worked for others in the program will work for me if I knock away the ego stuff and get down to brass tacks. The names and words of the prayers are window dressing. What matters is that I pray. And what matters is that I not make a big fuss about how different I am. Because when it comes down to it, in those rooms, I am just one more alcoholic looking for another day of sobriety.

Somehow I doubt I'll be able to convince my home group to adopt the transliteration from Aramaic, but I think I might be OK with the King James version eventually, knowing the beauty of the prayer from which it originally came. Perhaps the original is the one I need to try praying on my own, at home, alone, the way I pray. I think I will try that for a while and see how I feel about it.

I'm still not 100% cool with the Lord's Prayer at the end of meetings. I live in a community that is decidedly Hetero- and Judeao-Christian-centric. They know other things exist and do not oppose them, necessarily, but it would fuck with them mightily to try to change their traditions. My home group has been in existence since the 1940s. I doubt that it would accept such a radical departure from what has been its way for so very long.

I think I will print out the version I like best and hang onto that to pray each day and see how it fits. I have no idea what I will write about tomorrow - perhaps I will find a native anti-snow prayer.

Stay tuned.


AndyPants said...

The Christian feel to Alateen meetings is why I stopped attending and part of the reason to why I am so resistant to go to al anon now. But your thoughts are interesting, and something to think about at the very least.

Anonymous said...

The subjugation of your ego in the interest of a clearer understanding of health is laudable. You write well, Dawn, and I always walk away with insight.