Are you still saying the Lord’s Prayer when you wash your hands? It takes the same approximately 20 seconds that singing Happy Birthday or any number of other memorable quotes or songs that we are encouraged to use so that we spend enough time soaping and sudsing and rinsing to stay as safe as possible. It’s one thing to say it, another to pray it, right? Or maybe if we’re washing our hands enough times during the day, the saying becomes praying without our really realizing it?
I wonder if sometimes if that’s what prayer is. Paul admonishes/invites/cajoles us into “praying always”. The admonition comes from your favorite New Testament book and mine (drumroll) 1st Thessalonians. Um, what? Paul established the church there, in Thessalonica (btw, one of the best words ever to say) the capital of the province of Macedonia, and he’s later writing, probably from Corinth, to these Gentiles exhorting them to keep the faith. Interestingly, 1st Thessalonians may have been the earliest of all the New Testament writings. Sort of a big deal. Anyway, this ‘pray always’ appeal comes as part of the closing of the letter, ch. 5:14-18, “And we urge you beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that no one of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, PRAY WITHOUT CEASING, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Is that not one of the best set of scriptures for where we are right now??? To be honest, I’d forgotten this particular set of verses until I started praying the Lord’s Prayer while I was washing my hands. The more I’ve done it over these months, the more my mind has focused around different aspects of the prayer and more broadly different aspects of prayer in general. Not to say my mind wanders a bit as I’m reciting it for the umpteenth time of handwashing during the day, but yes. So as my mind ventured down another rabbit hole about prayer, I thought about Paul’s statement that I’ve remembered over years and years but also that I had not taken time in any recent day to put it into the context of where in the scriptures it was written. Wandering onto that path took me to 1st Thessalonians, Paul writing to Gentiles, and that it may be the first New Testament writing ever, probably in the 50’s Common Era, or traditionally after the birth of Christ. I now wonder why I didn’t memorize that whole set of verses, a new challenge for me now, as all of those instructions are worthy of our time.
True confessions? I learned the Lord’s Prayer, like most of you, from as far back as I can remember with my parents. Not shocking. But what may be, is that I have the Lord’s Prayer printed on multiple little square sheets that I paperclip into my bulletins, or Book of Worship, or anytime I will be leading it during a public service because . . . it’s one of those things that is so familiar I can mess it up without realizing that’s what is happening until boom, I’m in the middle and have no idea what I’ve said or where it’s going.
Does it happen to you? The whole how can I forget something I’ve always known but when I’m saying it, it starts sounding strange and peculiar and like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard or read or certainly said before??? I remember flying with my Dad one time and we were coming back into the Norton airport, and I grew up in Norton County mind you, and I see the name Norton painted in huge block letters across the top of the largest hangar on the airport and I thought, ‘that’s strange, I wonder what that word means.’ It just looked funny to me, how the letters were put together. Maybe it was the expansive nature or seeing them from above while flying thru the air, which when you think about it, isn’t that normal, but somehow in that moment it struck me as odd or sort of unknowable.
You see someone you’ve always known and walk past without recognizing them? Your mind’s on something else, you don’t expect to see them in that particular setting, you simply “draw a blank.” We can say it’s all about age, and I do think it happens more the older we get. But I don’t think that’s exclusively the reason.
We underestimate the creative Spirit of God, All. The. Time. Our minds and bodies and way of being get into a veritable rut where our lack of expectation of anything unique or different we simply ignore or don’t give an openness to expression. I think moments when the “expected and known” seem strange, may very well be the movement of God’s Spirit trying to nudge us out of our ruts of thinking and the way we see things. Could it be, at least sometimes, a little o.k. that we forget what we came into a certain room for if it allows our mind to see other things? I know, I know – it’s stupid annoying when it happens. But maybe sometimes, not every time, but sometimes could we see it as God trying to re-frame the picture in our heads and our hearts? To wake us up to sometimes our needing not to just “know” everything by recitation but to have to think again about things and maybe a little bit differently?
I don’t have a deep need to do an in-depth study of 1st Thessalonians right now, but do you know how happy I am to have retrieved verses 14-18 for the living of these days??? Could God maybe be saying for me to remember to encourage the fainthearted and help the weak, being patient with all of them. (I’m not sure about God wanting me to admonish the idlers *snort). And then not to repay evil with evil . . . even those folks who disagree with me? Who think my perspectives on the world are wrong? Who invite me into political polarity??? O.k., fine. And to seek to do good to one another AND TO ALL. Is that where all means ALL? Then, maybe even during all the Covids 18+1, to rejoice always, pray without ceasing (while washing your hands . . .) and give thanks in ALL(?) circumstances. Because? “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus FOR YOU.” How many times do we ask what the will of God is for our lives??? Drop the mic, there it is right there! It doesn’t say anything about God’s will being that I win the Powerball so go buy a ticket.
And all of that comes from simply being a little obsessive about handwashing and saying the Lord’s Prayer all the time. At least it does when you have a wandering mind I guess. And 1st Thessalonians, waaaay over on the right hand side of the bible, five chapters total of this first writing of the New Testament, the will of God for our lives. Next time you go into a room and forget what you came for, or pass someone you’ve known all your life without recognizing them, or get to the middle of the Lord’s Prayer and forget how it goes, allow God to take your mind to a different place – maybe there’s a minute of grace waiting for you just right there!