by Malcom Guite
I heard him call you his beloved son
And saw his Spirit lighten like a dove,
I thought his words must be for you alone,
Knowing myself unworthy of his love.
You pray in close communion with your Father,
So close you say the two of you are one,
I feel myself to be receding further,
Fallen away and outcast and alone.
And so I come and ask you how to pray,
Seeking a distant supplicant’s petition,
Only to find you give your words away,
As though I stood with you in your position,
As though your Father were my Father too,
As though I found his ‘welcome home’ in you.
Have you ever considered what poem in the English language is spoken daily more than any other? What poem has been memorized by the most people? I would place a small wager that it is The Lord’s Prayer. Malcom Guite may have considered this when he wrote a series of sonnets reflecting on The Lord’s Prayer. As beautiful as Guite’s words are, it is impossible to improve on the collective artistry of the words that have become our modern version of this poem;
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 and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
There is a lot going on in The Lord’s Prayer. It is the one prayer/poem that I have spoken in unison with a group of people more than any other. Yet, I always wonder how my interpretation of this poem may be similar or different from others as we say it aloud in Church?
I have always been fascinated by the start, the first sentence; “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” I learned The Lord’s Prayer prior to being confirmed as a teenager and it became anchored in my memory by saying it frequently at church. However, after saying it many times over my life, I run the risk of it becoming so rote, that the words roll off my tongue nearly without thinking. In recent years, every time I say it, I ponder a split-second on the word “art” to bring me mindfully back to the moment of what I am saying.
Like all great poetry, The Lord’s Prayer contains several uses of words in ways that are not common to our traditional or common use or understanding of those words, allowing our minds to acquire their own unique interpretation and associations around those words. I have noticed standing next to people in Church that some people replace the word “art” with “is.” In doing so, the speaker creates a straightforward relationship with a distant God that is separate from our realm and in some ways separate from ourselves, a rather traditional view of an all knowing, almighty. In starting that way it creates a theme of a distant benign relationship with a giving God throughout the rest of the poem. That is not how I have come to think of The Lord’s Prayer. As someone who has wrestled his entire adult life with the idea of who is an artist and what is achieved in the act of creating art, I look at the first sentence differently. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” means to me, that the earth and every living thing on it are God’s art in heaven. For that to be a literal reading it would require changing the word “who” to “whose.” But poetry is not intended to be read literally, rather its a way to be moved through words into a new appreciation of things that cannot be explained solely by words.
When I read or speak the first three sentences, thinking about myself as art, God’s art, not as an artist, but as an actual art form, surrounded by God’s other works of art in the biology, geology and beauty of this planet and all the people and creatures who inhabit it, it allows me to think of the planet earth as the most spectacular art gallery in the universe! Building on that thought, the rest of the sentence takes on a different meaning; ‘hallowed be thy name” becomes a reminder that my name is hallowed as a piece of God’s art, God’s signature is upon me and everything else. In this context, the word art becomes a noun whose common meaning now fits the sentence; “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing or of more than ordinary significance.”
My interpretation of The Lord’s Prayer affirms that each of us has more than ordinary significance. The next sentence also becomes more earthly and immediate if I drop a word – the word “in.” The third sentence then reads, “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is heaven.” Try this word play and thought process next time you need a boost in feeling a bit more beautiful. In doing so, the rest of the poem becomes an affirmation of all life here on earth through our collective glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Our Father, who(se) art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is heaven….
The Good Morrow
by John Donne
I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean’d till then ?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den ?
‘Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west ?
Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally ;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.