Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us

I have often found that music opens the way for the Spirit to speak to me, and that artists' conceptions of the scriptures—poetic, musical and visual—bring me to deeper understanding. Last year I created a very successful workshop on Psalm 23 combining various Psalm translations and poetry, musical compositions and interpretations, and visual images: Listening Anew to Psalm 23. Since I was doing it with a group of people whose average age was close to 90, all of whom could recite Psalm 23 (KJV) by heart, it was impressive how this led us all into a richer appreciation and ownership of this Psalm of comfort. We learned some of the original Hebrew, and shared some memories and our own artistic interpretations of the Psalm.

This success made me think that perhaps I could do this with some other central scripture passages for Christians, and have a series that I could take on the road to local churches, for Lenten reflections or for a study series.

So I've been trying to find a similar way into the Lord's Prayer, the Pater Noster, the prayer that Jesus taught us.

My first hurdle, as someone who has a strong commitment to inclusion and welcome, is the traditional translation that starts with "Our Father" as the way to refer to God. Because learning and singing the Hebrew text had opened up Psalm 23 for me, I decided that perhaps the original language of this prayer might be a place to start. While I had heard some people translate "Our Father" as Abba, which is more like Daddy than a formal Father, that still wasn't so helpful in the inclusion part.

Then I happened upon a CD by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (SAVAE) called Ancient Echoes: Music from the time of Jesus and Jerusalem's Second Temple. On the CD there is a setting of the Aramaic Lord's Prayer: Abwoon. In the CD liner notes was this helpful note about translating the Lord's Prayer from Aramaic to English:

All the Semitic languages—including Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic—use a root system that allows one word to hold multiple meanings. Thus, a tradition of translation arose in the Middle East that led to each word of a prophet being considered on many different levels of meaning.

So, in keeping with that tradition, I began to think that I needed to look for translations that captured the layers of meaning in the prayer.

Those liner notes also reference the work of Neil Douglas-Klotz and gave his transliteration and translation from the Aramaic and his website, where you can hear the Aramaic spoken.

Abwoon d'bwashmaya

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos/ you create all that moves in light.

Nethqadash shmakh

Focus your light within us--make it useful: as the rays of a beacon show the way.

Teytey malkuthakh

Create your reign of unity now--through our fiery hearts and willing hands.

Nehwey sebyanach aykanna d'bwashmaya aph b'arha.

Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.

Habwlan lachma d'sunqanan yaomana.

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight: subsistence for the call of growing life.

Washboqlan khaubayn (wakhtahayn) aykana daph khnan shbwoqan l'khayyabayn.

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others' guilt.

Wela tahlan l'nesyuna

Don't let us enter forgetfulness

Ela patzan min bisha.

But free us from unripeness

Metol dilakhie malkutha wahayla wateshbukhta l'ahlam almin.

From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews.


Truly--power to these statements--may they be the source from which all my actions grow. Sealed in trust & faith. Amen.

That reminded me of an alternate translation of the Lord's Prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book (Harper Collins, 1997) that we used one season in church that captures different layers of meaning, and I found it again:

The Lord's Prayer
Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth!

With the bread we need for today,
feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another,
forgive us.
In times of temptation and test,
strengthen us.
From trial too great to endure,
spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil,
free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.

Part of my hope is that people will really listen to these words if presented in different ways, and understand the layers of meaning in words that may have become rote, and be moved to apply them in their lives.

Now, I have found several interesting settings of Abwoon/Abwoun besides the one by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble

Catherine Braslavsky on 99 Perfectly Relaxing Songs

Lisa Gerrard on The Silver Tree

Indiajiva on Sacred Ragas

But, otherwise most of the settings I've found use very traditional translations of the text. For example:

Pater Noster - Settings of the Lord's Prayer by The Choir of the Abbey School

The Lord's Prayer (Deliver Us) by Selah

Lord's Prayer by Second Chance

The Lord's Prayer, composed Albert Hay Malotte, sung by nearly every pop, country and classical singer (pick your vocalist and look...)

Do you know of any other translations with good musical settings?

Folk singer Susan Werner does offer a different interpretation or perhaps a commentary in Our Father (The New, Revised Edition), but I think I either need to keep looking or start composing so that we can have music that that uses these texts with deeper layers to bring us into this prayer. I'd welcome your suggestions.

If you are interested in a Lenten series (now that's planning ahead isn't it?) on Owning/Knowing the Scriptures through the Arts that as of now would include at least 3 sessions (evenings/hours) on Psalm 23, the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes, let me know. [Leave me a comment with some way of being in touch with you.]

In the meantime, as I continue to study this prayer that might more aptly be called the prayer for the followers or disciples of Jesus, I found this web resource on the Disciple's Prayer, that I recommend to you. And I offer this hope for today based on the translation, coined by theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz: May God's kin-dom come on earth as in heaven.

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