[T]he Our Father is person-specific. It identifies and strengthens the central Christian truth about the person in relationship to God and creation. This truth is always present. Although the prayer is not detailed and fine-tuned toward particular situations, it influences how we think, will, feel, and act in whatever situations we are in.
• John Shea
• • •
In the Roman and Eastern liturgies, those who pray the Lord’s Prayer preface it by acknowledging, “We dare to say…” This is an expression of humility, recognizing that, apart from God’s grace to us in Christ, giving us new life and making us God’s children, we would not be able to pray like this.
In his book To Dare the Our Father: A Transformative Spiritual Practice, John Shea reminds us of another reason why making this prayer a vital part of our lives is a daunting and daring thing.
The traditional invitation to the Our Father—“We dare to say”—is correct. This prayer is a series of spiritual and social imperatives. To take it on is to be initiated into a vocation that, even as it remains a mystery, demands concrete changes in consciousness and behavior. I have been praying this prayer most of my life, and it is something I continually learn to do. Although I struggle with it in innumerable ways and do not completely live up to it, I have come to accept its dare as a life companion.
John Shea gives examples of how this prayer has been a life companion to him. He recounts the daily practice of praying it with his wife before they fall asleep at night. He recalls episodes of loss when he and his family gathered at the bedsides of deceased loved ones and prayed the Our Father together. He discusses his experience of it with his sisters and brothers in the liturgy of the gathered church, his individual use of the prayer in his own private devotion, and how those practices complement each other. Shea describes how he began to study the prayer more deeply and meditated upon its mystical aspects. Then he describes how its social and practical aspects began to pressure him to consider its message about his daily living. He was, in his words, “following a thread through the labyrinth” of this prayer Jesus gave us.
He gradually came to understand and embrace the fact that praying the Lord’s Prayer can be a transformative spiritual practice.
In short, praying the Our Father became the way I consciously committed myself to life itself. My days were occupied with within-life dreams that were more or less realized and within-life strategies that were more or less effective. As I scrambled to get what I wanted, I brought this prayer about life itself with me. And surprisingly it had a lot to say about my dreams and strategies. It worked for me the way mountains work in spiritual literature. When we are on the mountain, we gain perspective. We see more, and we see it all interconnected. When we return to ground level, we try to act from the perspective that we had on the mountain. Many of the times I prayed the Our Father, it took me out of myself (mountain) and then returned me to myself (ground). The trip was well worth it. It is the backstory of this book.