Every day in great Cathedrals, in automobiles, restaurants and school libraries millions upon millions of people around the world recite “The Lord’s Prayer.” I said it myself this morning. It is perhaps the simplest, most direct, most encompassing prayer ever cast in human language.
But while the simple words themselves provide a wonderful form for the function of prayer, the ideas behind the words can open a wider world for communication with God. “The Lord’s Prayer” is more than a rote intercession. It is also a template for prayer. More than a score for an intricate symphony, it is also a chord chart for a jazz improvisation, setting the tempo, key, and basic progression for a free-flow of expression. For anyone, asking, “teach me to pray” this simple pattern provides a beginning.
Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis of Israel in his day had (and still have today) a particular way of teaching their “talmidim” (students) to pray. Their method is called “haggah,” a Hebrew word usually translated in English “meditate.”
When most people think of meditation they envision a sophist or guru sitting passively in an incense-filled room. But “Haggah” meditation is more than silent contemplation. The word literally means to mutter, or to speak aloud quietly. When a rabbi would teach his students to pray “haggah” he would begin by reciting aloud a short portion of holy text, a Psalm or a prophecy or a portion of the Torah, the Law.
Following the scripture patterns the students would corporately but personally “mutter” to God his own thoughts and feelings about this text, amplifying the meaning with specific details relevant to his own life and the immediate situations in the world around him. This would continue for a few moments. Then just as the wave of “haggah” would begin to subside the rabbi would quote aloud the next portion of scripture. Again the student would expound the scripture back to God.
This seems to be how Reb Yeshua bar Yosef taught his followers to pray using the phrases of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. He may well have started: “Our Father, you who make your dwelling in the heavens, your name is holy…” The disciples would then “haggah” by praying personal details in their own words… “You are my Father, my provider and the one who grants my identity. You are making your home in Heaven a place to welcome me…” And more…
We can each do the same here and now.
Take up the “Lord’s Prayer,” and say the words quietly under your breath.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9-13).
Pause at each line and amplify how that phrase fits your needs today…