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Monday, July 29, 2013

A Revolution in Prayer--Part One of a Series

 On this past Sunday we were presented with a lesson on prayer, indeed with a veritable revolution on the meaning of prayer, a revolution that is 2000 years old and which we have forgotten as revolutionary.

  What  could that be?  Calling God Abba, Father. A little background is in order here.  In the Hebrew Scriptures there are several references to God being like a father to Israel.  The Israelites, however, never prayed to God by calling God "Abba".  That was seen as making oneself too chummy with God.  The divine name was not to be pronounced.  God was called Lord (Elohim) or Master of the Universe, but never "Abba". In the Gospel text for this past Sunday we are given Luke's version of the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer.  The Church very early on adopted Matthew's version. Both are essentially the same.  When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray He gave them and gives us this beautiful prayer which is not so much a formula as it is a way of relation to God.
By telling us to call God Father, "Abba", He is drawing us into the life of the Trinity.  He is telling us that his Abba is our Abba as well, a relationship established at our baptism and renewed throughout our lives.  Ans what does "Abba" mean?  Father, yes, but more. Let me illustrate via an experience I had in Israel when I visited there 20 years ago.

  I traveled to the Holy Land with a Scripture study group directed by the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As we went about we were often in the vicinity of various Jewish groups who often spoke their native Hebrew language.  On one such occasion a little boy of about 5 years old fell and hit his head on the pavement.  After a period of stunned silence he began to scream and cry, not a pleasant sound, but one that brought relief because it meant that he was breathing.  At any rate as the crying decreased the little guy got his bearings and spotted his father out of the corner of his eye.  Upon seeing his father he got up and ran towards him crying, "Abba, abba, abbaaaa."  His father came running toward him and picked him, embracing and soothing him.

  I was taught in seminary Scripture class many years ago that "Abba" meant not only "father" in the more formal sense, but also "daddy" or "papi".  This scene brought that home. That was definitely a "daddy" moment.

  So then, in teaching us to call God "Abba" I believe that Jesus wants us to reverence God as "Father", but also wants us to know that when we fall and are wounded we can cry out to our "Daddy" and be picked up in His loving embrace.  I invite you to occasionally when praying the Lord's prayer to begin with "Our Daddy" or dad, pop, whatever word works for you.  I think that might change our image of God and move us away from the old man with the beard image that so many have.

  For those who have read my book, The Wandering Friar, this story is told on pgs. 81-82. 

  Finally, we have only touched on the first line of the Lord's Prayer.  Stay posted for more in the week's ahead.

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