The Lord’s Prayer (Part 5)

Our Father (who art) in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name

I come to this point in the Lord’s Prayer filled with wonder and curiosity:  what might it mean to pray that the name of God be “hallowed” or, since that phrase feels a bit out of the ordinary, “honored as holy.”   I must admit I sense a deep tension in me at this point in the prayer.

On the one hand, feelings of reverence and respect co-mingle in me with a sense of fear and awe.  I’m struck by an inner pull to God’s holy goodness and beauty.  I want to concede the honor due the very name of God.  The images that arise in me are those of praise–singing, dancing, celebrating, rejoicing at the wonder of God.   I’m drawn to the proclamation of God’s glory as it swells in my soul.

Yet,  alongside those affections and images, I am also reminded of the many ways in history Christians have so attached themselves to the name of God that they have become blind to themselves, specifically their actions.  Some have defended a particular, rather narrow cause with God’s own name; a cause too often breeding destruction and the demeaning of people branded “heretic,” “infidel,” “blasphemer,” or some other denigrating outsider category.  We’ve known holy war and less violent, but still cruel, practices of exclusion in Christian history.

I wonder what might be at work here.  Are our notions of “honor” infected?  Or is there more than merely short-sighted honor at work?

I think how we picture what “honor” means is important.  But I want to touch on another issue as well.  I wonder if we too easily subscribe to a one-liner pulled from Calvin: “no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness.”  We skim by the “so to speak” and make God’s Glory come by way of reducing human fulfillment–as if God’s Glory meant the reduction or destruction of human happiness (which might be better termed “fullness” or “aliveness” in our day and age since “happiness” is, now, overly individualized, emotionalized, and immanent).

Growing up I struggled to see how God’s glory and human life were anything other than exclusive.  Which is why I understood sin as individual selfishness–any attention or concern with myself.  And why (self-)sacrifice was embraced as the supreme virtue (though it was also connected to imitating Christ).

When we ignore the human dimension of God’s Glory we might, and have in the past, fail to see ourselves as we “honor” God.  We can’t get rid of ourselves in honoring, praising, or venerating God.  And, by not giving ourselves proper attention, we just might miss the ways we are actually (ab)using God’s Name.  “This isn’t about me,” we might say, “It’s about praising God (and silencing those who I believe don’t do this as they should).”

And by excluding human well-being from the picture of God’s Glory, we can under-write cruel forms of human destruction to “preserve” God’s honor (“destroy the blasphemer!”)

So I think the connection between human well-being and God’s glory is bound up in our sense of “honor.”  I  think we need to recover a more robust notion of “honor,” one that is not reducible to words alone.  I suspect the glimmer of our words can, at times, distract us from the weapons in our hands and the people–God’s children–beneath our feet.

St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote about the Lord’s Prayer giving, in my view, an instructive frame for considering how we hallow God’s name.  He is convinced “that the Name of God should not be blasphemed but rather be glorified and be hallowed through our way of life. In us then, according to the Divine Word, the Name of God and His Lordship, which we invoke, should be hallowed so that others may see our good works and glorify the Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:16).”  For Gregory, our lives, which surely include our words but are not limited to them, are what glorify and sanctify God’s Name.  To honor God is to pay attention to ourselves, to see how our lives “speak” God’s praise.

This is echoed in many other early Church writers.  St. John Cassian wrote

The words, ‘Hallowed be thy name’ can also be quite satisfactorily understood in this way – namely, that the hallowing of God is our perfection. And so when we say to him: ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ we are saying in other words: Make us such, Father, that we may deserve to understand and grasp how great your hallowing is and, of course, that you may appear as hallowed in our spiritual way of life.

My friend Jeff Lehn quotes Irenaeus of Lyons on his blog Rekindling the Gift.  I find these words, simple as they are, poingnant and powerful:  “the glory of God is humanity fully alive.”

There is a deep connection, then, between the glory and honor we give to God and the fullness of our own lives.  This gets at the tension I was articulating above.  Praising God, giving God honor, need not lead to the Crusades or the Inquisition (despite what certain–I dare so overly-simplistic–secularists assume in their appraisals of “religion”).  Hallowing the name of God does not properly come at the expense of God’s creatures.  To put it differently, praising God does not need to be a defensive posture descending into the destruction of adversaries; nor does it need to distract us from our own lives as if God is truly uninterested in the people we are and the activities we undertake.  Rather, God’s glory is magnified by the life we make in and through Christ–a life marked by affirmation and agape, generosity and grace, compassion and hospitality, friendship and open, inviting community.

And here Maximus the Confessor offers a bit of mystical spirituality for us to chew on:

The Holy Trinity is indeed proclaimed [in the Lord’s Prayer] because although the Father alone is mentioned, mystically and anagogically the other two are implied in the words “name” and “kingdom”, “For the name of God the Father exists in substantial form in the Only-begotten Son. Again, the Kingdom of God exists in substantial form as the Holy Spirit.”[11]

This spiritual adoption [implied in calling God Father rather than just Creator—by grace] demands that we try to preserve in our life the characteristics of our Divine birth by grace. In our action, and not only in our words, we are to “hallow” His name, and thus be proven to be true children of God, glorifying Him, “who is by nature Son of the Father”, in all that we think and do.

If the Name of God is the Word of God, then this phrase opens onto a life in Christ–a life that is graced by God and directed through Christ, but that remains in an important way our life nonetheless.  To honor God is to pay attention to ourselves as God’s own in Christ, not to ignore ourselves and simply “focus upwards,” as it were.  This does not mean that everyhing is all sunshine and bubblegum, that we are perfect the way we are–we are not. Sacrifices might still be in order, sacrifices that take us beyond individualized happiness and closer to human “fullness.”  But even here, we don’t entirely lose ourselves in praising God and hallowing God’s name, instead we find ourselves anew.

Paying attention to ourselves as God’s own in Christ might just help us keep the destruction and demeaning of human life that plagues our history at bay (though this will be a perpetual danger given the continuing presence of Sin).  May we be reminded that in Christ God did not destroy human life, instead God took it up and made it over, redeeming us for the work of unfurling God’s abundant Life in all the World.  Hallowed be thy Name.

the Name of God should not be blasphemed but rather be glorified and be hallowed through our way of life. In us then, according to the Divine Word, the Name of God and His Lordship, which we invoke, should be hallowed so that others may see our good works and glorify the Father who is in heaven (Mt 5:16)

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2 thoughts on “The Lord’s Prayer (Part 5)

  1. Great thoughts, Michael. Thanks for bringing in so many different perspectives. The pastor of my upbringing used to say that this particular line was the “most important prayer in the Bible.” I’m not sure what I think about calling a certain prayer “most important,” but it does, as you point out, touch both God and ourselves.

    • Thanks, Jeff. I’ve been moving through the prayer very slowly and carefully, finding a lot or richness and complexity. This particular phrase stirred up a host of different emotions and reactions in me, only a few of which I focused on in my reflections and commentary. I’ve discovered that the ancient voices of our spiritual heritage, however time-stamped their perspectives are, are nonetheless full of wisdom that can help us imaginatively rediscover the most familiar pieces of our faith life.

      I was aided by a website you might find useful: http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Lords_Prayer.html

      I would hesitate to call this particular line in the prayer “the most important,” though it does raise some profoundly important matters at the heart of Christian living: what might it mean to proclaim and live into the “hallowed” name of God?

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