Our Father. …
Let’s stop there actually.
And before we get into why, first, a clarification. In the Latin and original Greek versions of this prayer, the first word would have been Father, not ‘Our.’ Those with some experience in these ancient languages might point out that word order matters less because the nouns and verbs have endings that tell us what goes with what in a sentence. True, but word order does still matter, especially in speech that is more poetic. Word order in ancient languages may not be necessary for comprehending the basic sense of the words, but it can become a way of conveying a deeper meaning. (For more on that, check out this teacher’s explanation.)
It’s also worth noting that for non-native speakers, word order becomes more important, as a factor in our efforts to memorize these prayers in the Latin (or the Greek as the case may be). This is especially true for English speakers.
For all those centuries in which the Catholic English faithful prayed it that means that the first word to hit them was not the noster (our), but the Pater (Father). It’s the first word they heard and sets the tone for the rest. So let’s begin anew there.
This simple utterance contains cosmic implications.
First, we all have fathers. In addressing another ‘Father’ we are affirming a sort of double paternity. Our earthly fathers are, with our mothers, the source of our existence. Or so some would think. But in addressing another ‘Father’ we are acknowledging another source of our being.
We are addressing our Father not in everyday speech but prayer. Our words are not meant to be audible to a physical presence, but One who is not of this world. Since we call this One, ‘Father,’ that means the source of our being lies beyond, that we too are not of this world.
This is not a declaration we have made make about ourselves individually. This is not a ‘Song of Myself.’ We discover this most essential thing about ourselves, our secret identity, only when we reach out to the Other.
We are here. Our Father is elsewhere. Must we not long to be with our Father, to see Him, to meet Him? Suddenly an immense sense of destiny, a great calling wells up within us. For if our Father is beyond this world then meeting Him means embarking upon an odyssey, one that will take us beyond the visible reaches of our world.
How can this be possible? How can we even contemplate such an extraordinary journey?
We already have a reason to hope: we are able to pray to our Father. We know Him. This is not some existential cry of despair out into the nothingness. We are not forlorn pagans staring off into the horizon making offerings to a distant deity that may or may not be there.
To address this One as ‘Father’ implies some kind of intimacy already exists. Although we are separated by some strange cosmic gulf, something extraordinary has happened that allows us to communicate with our Father. (And what a wonderful interruption in the order of things that must have been!) And prayer—this special means of communication with the beyond—suggests that we are already being equipped for this journey.
More importantly: if He can hear us, He can find us.
Then another thought nudges its way into the forefront. Journey to Him we must. But perhaps we are also on a mission from Him? If so what is that mission?
The questions are starting to outpace the answers. But we are already to talking to the One Who knows. We are addressing Him, talking to Him. This isn’t just prayer. It’s a dialogue. How will our Father respond? How can we recognize His voice? How long must we wait for a reply?
I do not say ‘My Father.’ I have no special claim, no private purchase on this Father who is above and beyond me. He is ‘our’ common Father.
Even when we are alone saying it as individuals, in the deepest silences of our hearts, we say ‘Our Father.’ As individuals, we realize there are others like us. Somehow we are bound together so deeply that this prayer must retain its plural even when said alone. We are members of some sort of a mystical family, a special communion, an unseen assembly of pilgrims who are on this journey with each other.
In the quest for our Father, we must search for these fellow wayfarers too. Perhaps there we may find answers to the many questions we now have.
In addressing the ‘Father’ we found that the most profound truth of our identity rested in our encounter with another person not of this world. This extension of the soul has now led to an encounter with other persons. The love that we are beginning to feel for our Father immediately flows into a love for others, many unseen, many we have yet to meet.
These two words have unfolded a world of discovery and destiny. What lies ahead in the remaining nine lines and 53 words? What new epiphanies, what great callings, what glorious realities are in store? We begin to realize that that wondrous journey of which we have become aware really begins here, with this prayer, right now.
So let us pray: “Our Father. …”