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Explaining the Prayer

Two millennia ago, in a moment of extraordinary “knowing,” a prayer came to Jesus of Nazareth. In Aramaic, the language of Galilee that he spoke. This prayer came before scientists had verified that our lives depend on star explosions, ecosystems, quantum fields, and microorganisms who keep the earth’s soil fertile as well manage the immune systems of our bodies. Recent near-death experiences, reported by scientists as their experience or as part of their research, include seeing a brilliant light and feeling an overwhelming love. I suggest that these life-transforming experiences are evidence of a cosmic spiritual reality.

Might we include these insights in a prayer? Expressing gratitude for how nature sustains our lives and our commitment to living more sustainably? The prayer Jesus taught is often expressed in English as follows:

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 debts as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever. Amen.

Humbly, I suggest the following changes for our time.

Referring to God as “Father” characterizes God as a loving parent but has been used by many Christians to justify male authority over women. Might we express gratitude in a prayer for divine love using words that do not reinforce the gender bias, which continues to be present in many religious traditions?

The phrase “who art in heaven” has led many to think of heaven as a place, in space and time, above the material world. The testimonies of near-death survivors suggest, instead, that heaven identifies a continuing state of consciousness, which can be experienced now if we have open hearts and open minds. As heaven is a spiritual reality beyond material reality, it may continue after physical death. In surprising ways, heaven has inspired souls in every time and place. Even as the wind is unseen when shaking the leaves of a tree, so heaven may move us to be more loving and forgiving. Rather than a place, heaven is Love’s embrace. 

In the ancient world ruled by kings, God was worshiped as the King of kings, with a kingdom greater than all earthly kingdoms. Jesus proclaimed that this spirit of grace and peace not only would welcome us after death but could transform our lives, in the Roman Empire when he lived and died, and in any time or place. As we struggle today for the rule of law and democracy that will protect human rights, I suggest we replace the word kingdom in our prayer with “grace and peace.” To affirm our hope that experiences of enlightening love will stir us to create and preserve a more peaceful and just world.

Today, we may choose to be grateful for the grace of the cosmos, manifested in the self-sacrifice of stars that creates the materials which gravity pulls together into planets. Creative forces of attraction also combine cells into organisms, which are sustained in ecosystems coevolving on earth. In the earth’s biosphere, there is new life, death, renewed life, creativity, divergence, and resilience.

Might we pray, therefore, “O God of life and death may your grace and peace come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Instead of praying for “our daily bread,” might we pray instead for the health of the planet we share with other people and countless other species. To end the global warming caused by increasing carbon emissions due to our current way of life, we need to adopt a plant-based diet—which is healthier for us as well as other life on earth. We must end industrial, extractive agriculture, which depletes soil fertility as well as relies on fossil fuels for energy, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. We now need to invest in regenerative farming, which replenishes soil fertility and will feed everyone on earth, as well as cut carbon emissions and end the animal and chemical waste now polluting our rivers and oceans due to stormwater runoff.

Might we pray, “May we live humbly so the soil will revive, more species survive, and nature thrive.”

If we trust that divine reality is the source of all sustaining love, we need not pray for God’s forgiveness. Also, I suggest that not use the word “debts” (or “trespasses” used in an alternative English version of the prayer), as today the word debt refers to owing money and the word trespass to being on private property without permission. Neither word reminds us of our many acts that we lift up, praying for forgiveness.

Therefore, might we pray, “May we be forgiven for the harm we have done, as we forgive those who have done us harm.”

Temptation and evil remain significant threats, but I suggest we need to take responsibility for creating as well as confronting both. Two millennia ago, nature was merely a backdrop for stories that were both divine and human. What we now understand as ecosystems and the earth’s biosphere were unknown, and thus their role in maintaining human life and all other life as well could not be recognized in prayers and ethical teachings.

Despite knowing now that the web of life sustains the earth’s biosphere, too many of us argue that the earth’s abundance is simply ours for the taking. That nature’s resources are ours to use for human pleasure and also to waste, no matter how destructive our choices may be. Might we now recognize that climate change is nature’s resistance to our unnatural way of life? Scientists report that four earths would be required to sustain human life, if everyone consumed natural resources as the average American does. To sustain human life on earth, we must live more responsibly within the natural harmony of the earth’s ecosystems.

After World War II, physicist Albert Einstein urged that we all “widen our compassion” for others who are different from us, by culture or religious beliefs, or simply by choices that matter to them. He was not thinking of nonhuman life, but I urgethat we now widen our compassion for all life on earth, to preserve the lives of all sorts of plants, fungi, other animals, as well as all human beings now alive and future generations as well.

Therefore, might we pray, “May we overcome temptation and evil by having compassion for all life on earth.”

Finally, many near-death survivors have testified to their experience of mind-opening Light and heart-filling Love, and also to a sense of being back home. Researchers have verified that these experiences were described as “spiritual” by many, and in fact were “life-transforming” for most.

Might we see these experiences as gifts of grace, created by stars and a divine reality, which we now are called to celebrate in spirituals and prayers, and as well as in transformed lives . . . until our time has come.


Therefore, might we conclude our prayer, “O God of stars, and Light and Love, may your grace lead us home.” 

Robert Traer, Easter 2023

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