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This Day

Matthew had some strong ideas about prayer. It is in his book that we find the Lord’s Prayer, also known as “The Swiss Army Knife of Prayers.” This particular prayer, according to Matthew (who should know about such things), is the Alpha and the Omega of prayers. He stresses this when he writes in Matthew 6:9-6:13, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven…

Of late, and for obvious reasons, I’ve become more likely to pray than to curse. Indeed my new program is to swap a prayer for a curse whenever I find I’ve slipped into the cursing mode.

In a world that is cursed putting more curses into it is never a good idea. We are full up at present. No shortage of curses that I can see. Still, slipping into the cursing mode is easy to do in today’s world. We’re encouraged to do it by the very nature of the secular society.

Add to that my thirty year stint in New York City where the standard reaction to almost any event is either a curse that involves the middle initial of the Savior (Just what does that “H.” stand for anyway?), or the invocation of unnamed males who have an affinity for crude sex only with females of the motherly persuasion, and, when it comes to my ability and propensity to curse, you are dealing with one crude mother….

Cursing is a bad habit and one that I am trying to break. One way is, whenever I catch myself in an angry cursing moment, to recite a prayer instead. And the goto prayer in these multiple moments is always the Lord’s. It’s brief. It’s beautiful. Plus I can say it at high speed and by rote; a Christian prayer wheel.

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day…

The Lord’s Prayer also has a hidden benefit. It has, at its core, one simple but profound request:

“Give. Us. This. Day.”

That’s it. That’s the real core of all prayers. That is the one request of the Lord without which nothing else matters. This day is what all our past, lost days flow towards and which all our future hoped-for days flow from. Without the gift of “This Day” the ones that have passed have no meaning and the ones that are to come have no potentiality. Both are but abstractions or, as the poet has it:

What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Which is a fancy way of saying that without the gift of this day being given us all else is lost. Secular thinkers speak of this as being “in the now” as if “being here now” was all that it took to be really alive.

I lived in that popcult fauxworld for years before escaping and, looking back, I seem to remember it not as replete with luminous headlands overlooking the sea, but as the shadowlands that loom beyond a darker border. Being in the now was neither a gift nor a curse, a burden or a blessing. It simply was and, as a result, was rather unremarkable.

That secular world originated out of nothing, out of the limited imagination of the noosphere and, with no reach beyond itself, existed closer to the Alpha than to the Omega. That world had, as secular things often do, a tangle of bright, shiny deceivers clustered around it like gnats outside a privy. When you arrived at the center “the now” it had nothing to say about tomorrow, and very little to promise about this day other than that it would be roughly similar to yesterday. There was little inscape and no escape. The secular “Now” was always the same day, neither given nor taken but simply existing. It was the kind of day in which the existence of the Human and the existence of a sea slug was essentially equal. I, for one, would rather ask for my day than simply arrive in it.

Which is why, when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I always pause — at the very least — when I come to the phrase, “Give us this day.” And in that pause, I remember another phrase derived from scripture, “Tomorrow is not promised.”

I once knew that phrase, “Tomorrow is not promised,” in a rather dry, academic, vaguely poetic manner. Now, having had my all my tomorrows removed and then miraculously restored a few times, I understand the phrase down to the marrow of my bones. Coming into this day I always ask the Lord to “Give us this day.” Departing this day I find I return to the early litanies of childhood, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake….”

But then, so far, I do wake and I continue in my project to replace curses with prayers. I’m not very good at it yet. Still fairly shaky. Then again, as another poet tells me,

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

The Lord give me (and give you) This Day.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bob sykes December 31, 2017, 4:37 AM

    Always, you teach me something new. This is my favorite blog. I got the reference to Eliot (The Poet) and to de Chardin, both of whom I first read 50 years ago, and still read, but I missed the Roethke quote. I actually have his poems, but they are unread. Now they will be.

    Happy New Year to you and yours.

  • Suz December 31, 2017, 4:49 AM

    I try to say the Lord’s Prayer on awaking every day. I love the phrase “the Swiss Army knife of prayers”. Happy New Year, Gerard. May you live many more years and I will read every day that you write.

  • Ralph Kinney Bennett December 31, 2017, 5:00 AM

    Thank you for this, Gerard. Thank you. And then, too, there is that wonderful turning point in this prayer — “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us…”. That’s not God’s suggestion. That’s an order. And a hard one to obey. It’s almost as if you have to be filled with a new spirit to do it. Hm-m-m. Thank you for being here. For sharing the riches. Happy New Year.

  • Chuck December 31, 2017, 5:34 AM

    I too thank you for your comments on the Lord’s Prayer and they could not have come at a better time. Pope Francis, concerned about “lead us not into temptation”, wants to change those words into something more…I know not what. Of all the Popes I’ve known since Pius XII, he is becoming my least favorite. I knew his choice would be bad for the Church. And he keeps proving my premonition.

  • Kathryn of Wyoming December 31, 2017, 6:46 AM

    Such a lovely essay and I think of your thoughts on prayer often. Especially ‘Give us this day’ and ‘now I lay me down to sleep’. Thank so very much.

  • Howard Nelson December 31, 2017, 6:59 AM

    And our uplifting obligation? From whatever deep midwinter, to give one’s heart (what’s a heart for if not for-giving).
    ‘For it is in the giving that we receive,’ Frankly teaching.

  • Missy December 31, 2017, 9:42 AM

    I never liked or understood the language “our trespassers” in the Lord’s Prayer, having recited it thousands of times at my Episcopal schools for 12 years. Then recently I “got” it. My heart was hardened against an adult rural neighbor who both threatened me and sprayed graffiti on my iron mailbox while intoxicated. Police were called, and charges were suggested, but I am alone here and did not press them. He was my “trespasser,” literally and figuratively. A few months ago I stopped at the word “trespasser,” mid prayer, and grabbed my bent burglar alarm sign in hand. I found him in his shed, startled him and asked him nicely if he could straighten my sign post. I was afraid, but I was not afraid, too. His eyes welled up, to my amazement, and he both straightened the post and replaced some screws with “better screws.” No discussion of the ugly incident took place. I am certain now that all will be well. Thanks be to God.

  • ghostsniper December 31, 2017, 9:56 AM

    @Missy, clever.
    I’d rather have a friend, than an enemy.

  • John Venlet December 31, 2017, 12:17 PM

    Ghostsniper, though clever could be applied to Missy’s action, and the result, I think what actually occurred is Missy applied the greatest commandment; Love thy neighbor as thyself; with spectacular results.

  • Patrick January 1, 2018, 11:32 AM

    Gerard, mil grazie as always. Missy, thank you for responding to a great grace: your line ‘I was afraid, but not afraid, too’ will appear in this parish priest’s homily in 2018. An echo of ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,’ Julian of Norwich’s report of the words of Our Lord, artfully stolen by T. S. Eliot and incorporated into his Four Quartets. Joyful 2018!

  • Sam L. December 29, 2018, 9:46 AM

    IIRC, the H. stands for “Holy Ghost”.

  • William Norton December 29, 2018, 12:34 PM

    Good one, thank you.

    William
    By the way, my parents and younger siblings lived at
    Rock Creek, Tobin, Yankee Hill. I am CSU ’64. Perhaps our paths crossed many years ago.

  • Ulysses Toole December 29, 2018, 6:04 PM

    Another oft repeated by me is the “Desert Prayer” or “Jesus Prayer”.
    O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    This is better than yoga or the rosary. Use it for breathing. Intake “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” then exhale “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

  • tnxplant December 29, 2018, 8:26 PM

    Another favorite is this one (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer):
    Christ be with me, Christ within me,
    Christ behind me, Christ before me,
    Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

  • AbigailAdams December 30, 2018, 2:43 AM

    Gerard, it’s not the secular society that causes or even encourages us to curse. That is satan and his minions. Glad to know that your better angels are keeping watch over you and your thoughts and tongue. Also from the gospels; Luke the doctor: Luke 6:45 New International Version (NIV)

    45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

    I prefer to meditate on the gravity of the source of my cursing (and I’m not saying this is true for you or anyone else) because it is too easy to think of cursing as simply a habit or bad word choice — as in a sort of “oopsie, my bad!” non-apology to the aggrieved Holy Spirit.

    On the Lord’s prayer: Another way to meditate on it that I find exceedingly helpful is to emphasize each successive word as I repeat it. “GIVE us this day.” Give US this day.” “Give us THIS day.” “Give us this DAY.” I do that for the entire prayer, focusing and pondering the meaning in it.

    Love to you, brother. ~AA

  • Bill Jones December 30, 2018, 7:49 AM

    A rarely commented upon aspect of this prayer is the conditional stanza:
    “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”

    Forgive us, to the extent that, we forgive……
    Gives me pause for thought everyday.

  • Janet A. Roesler December 30, 2018, 9:20 AM

    Re “give us this day,” your thoughts are a timely reminder of the dailiness of our lives and the need to appreciate without taking for granted each new day we are given, but you have gotten the object wrong. Jesus is not praying to be given “this day;” He is praying to be given “our daily bread,” and to be given it this day – today. The word order and grandeur of the KJV cloud this somewhat, but the request is essentially “Today, give us the bread we need every day.”

    Yours is always the third blog I read daily, right behind two news aggregate sites.

  • JoanOfArgghh! December 31, 2018, 4:23 PM

    Some saint somewhere noted that the Lord’s prayer is our basic concerns of life: bread, and debt.
    Such a tidy prayer. Its secret is that it starts with praise, and that is where you will be freed from the curse of cursing. Praise– not simple thanksgiving for things, but a “hallowing” of the Name. It sets us in our place and our world in proper order: He is great because He is able to keep His promises and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. We praise as though we know: He is good, even when it’s hard to see it. We praise because it is good for our ears to hear our own lips speaking this simple Truth: He is God, He is holy, He is good. Everything else is skirting around the fear that we are alone, and the sure knowledge that we are not enough. The praise is how Hope grows.
    Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord!

  • AesopFan January 1, 2019, 12:14 PM

    Beautiful post, beautiful meditation, beautiful comments.
    A thoughtful and uplifting way to approach the New Year.

    Gerard, your comments on trying to alter old habits remind me of the early 20th-century Latter-day Saint, J. Golden Kimball. In his youth, he helped his widowed mother support their family by working as a mule driver and in other rough-and-ready professions. That didn’t prevent him from being called to LDS leadership positions, but it made his speaking companions a bit nervous whenever his turn came up.
    Often admonished for his slips of the tongue, he once replied, “You can’t excommunicate me — I repent too damn fast!”
    He was a favorite among the congregations, of course, who always packed the chapels when they learned he was coming to preach.
    On one occasion he told them, “I may not have walked the straight and narrow, but I crossed it as often as I could!”

    Bless you and your mother and the Editor-in-Chief (loved that picture!)

  • Larry Geiger January 2, 2019, 7:20 AM

    hallowed
    From the dictionary:
    honor as holy.
    “the Ganges is hallowed as a sacred, cleansing river”
    make holy; consecrate.
    synonyms: holy, sacred, consecrated, sanctified, blessed; More
    greatly revered or respected.
    “in keeping with a hallowed family tradition”
    When we say “hallowed” we are saying holy, sacred, consecrated, sanctified and blessed. He is holy. He is set apart. Above. Outside. Unapproachable.
    1 Timothy 6:16, NIV: “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”
    And yet…
    And yet his Holy Spirit is in us, among us and animates everything. He fills us, he animates us, he teaches us, he delivers us he saves us.