17 June 2024

‘I hope that you receive the Lord’s Prayer for the gift it is and pray it daily’

Picture: supplied

Archbishop Philip Freier 

5 May 2023

For something that is so personal and at the heart of the experience of the Christian, it is not remarkable that so much has been written about prayer over the years. This tells us that we are not unique in our desire to better embrace this dimension of spiritual intimacy with God. In the middle of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a small book about praying the psalms entitled, Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible. Bonhoeffer recognised that there is often a gap between our yearning to pray and finding the words to express that yearning. I can imagine that this is exactly what the disciples were experiencing when they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11). They had been aware of Jesus’ own practice of prayer and desired to participate in what they had observed. Like those disciples, Bonhoeffer receives the Lord’s Prayer as a great gift that carries yearning into words and spiritual practice. “Whatever is included in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed aright; whatever is not included is no prayer. All the prayers of Holy Scripture are summarised in the Lord’s Prayer.” 

Read more: Prayer and meditation services hope to kindle peace, stillness, connection

Bonhoeffer is also a great advocate of prayer at the beginning of each day. He considered that many of the problems that weigh down a person throughout the day have their origin, “most often in the neglect of morning prayer.” It is surely true that mental and emotional turmoil have profound and far-reaching impact on us, not least of all in our disposition to pray. I recall many pastoral conversations that have revealed this tendency for us to hold our troubles to ourselves and, in the middle of these troubles, not to pray. Counterintuitive, isn’t it, that when we most need God we often find it difficult to pray? Patterns of prayer that we embrace, whether we feel inspired or not, are a great gift as we make our way through all the experiences that make up our daily life. 

Read more: Sydney Christians offer prayers, in confusion and distress

Violet Teague’s 1921 painting, Anzac Christmas which now hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral is a visual encouragement to pray. Painted just three years after the end of the First World War she painted Anzac Christmas as a war memorial for St Peter’s Church, Kinglake. It is hard to imagine that time with soldiers and nurses returned from overseas with trauma fresh in their experience and so many family members still grieving for those who had been killed in battle. The memorial boards in many of our churches give us cause to contemplate this question. In that charged emotional environment, Violet Teague offered an image of two Australian “diggers” kneeling before a radiant infant Jesus in the stable of his birth in Bethlehem. Even the trauma of war could not prevent the expression of this foundational Christian experience.  

I hope that you receive the Lord’s Prayer for the gift it is and pray this prayer daily. The liturgies of the Church properly give prominence to the Lord’s Prayer and it is right for us to join our prayers in this way on each occasion when we gather for corporate worship. Remember Bonhoeffer’s maxim, “Whatever is included in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed aright”. 

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