I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles. In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
I am continuing this morning to reflect on the part of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Last time, I talked about the word sin itself, hamartion, in Greek and promised I would look at other ways this gets translated.
A common way that prayer gets translated is “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. I find that translation helpful and instructive in regards to how we engage in relationships and in the spiritual life. Trespass at first makes me think about rules or laws. As a child I was to be home by this time, not touch the stove, and had any number of other rules I had to follow. Often people approach spirituality and faith in terms of rules. We must set aside a tenth (or other portion) of our income for the church or the needy in various religions. We must read so much of the Bible or some other sacred text a day. We must not smoke, drink, or dance or date those that do. I say this only tongue in cheek, for often when there is a difference between religion and spirituality, the difference is religion becoming a system of rules to be blindly followed and spirituality a set of values that give life meaning.
Long ago I left behind the approach to faith and spirituality in which it is a set of iron-clad rules. Just as St. Paul tells us in Romans and Galatians, religion as law kills, destroying the vibrancy of the soul and the intimacy in relationships with God, self, others, and God’s world.
So initially a part of me pushes against the language of trespass. I have trouble believing anymore in a God that is great lawgiver and judge, sitting far removed waiting to catch us breaking a law. To be fair, this could not be further from how Jesus embodies the Divine: as suffering servant, as one who is present without judgment and full of grace to each person and all creation, as love made flesh, compassion set in action. As John 1 says, in Jesus we see God embodied as grace and truth not law.
But stepping away from that way of seeing transgress and considering the word from another angle, how helpful it is in considering my own relationships to God, to myself, and to others! For transgress certainly can be about law. But it also can be about boundaries.
If I go faster than the boundary of the speed limit, I transgress the speed limit. If I don’t respect your schedule on a date or a get-together, I transgress your schedule. In life we have boundaries we need to feel alive, thriving, and whole which we must have respected to feel loved by others and must respect if we want to live with compassion, love, grace, and truth-telling in our relationships with others, God, and nature.
A helpful book for me in learning to embrace and live into the gift of boundaries was Pia Melody’s book The Intimacy Factor. In her book she writes:
“Truth about self and respect for the truth of others are the portals through which true intimacy and spirituality enter. No intimate relationship is possible without them, and spirituality is a gift of relationship.
“At the center of this discovery is the concept of boundaries that create the experience of truth and respect. The system of boundaries … enables each of us to maintain our inherent worth in the face of all outside pressures, rarely allowing the opinions or emotions of others to erode our belief in our inherent worth. Secure in our own self-worth, we do not feel so threatened, diminished, or shamed by others. We do not have to make defensive or offensive adaptations to maintain our dignity. It is in such a state that true relationships are possible. For most of us, achieving this state is one of the most delicate and often painful achievements of adulthood. Most of us find our greatest and pain and disappointment in relationships that we cannot make work.
“When we are in relationships, we are called on to give body, thoughts, and emotions, to our partners and to accept body, thoughts, and emotions from them. Learning how to do this is a prerequisite for intimacy and the spirituality to which it gives birth. To do it badly causes misery. To do it well honors the best part of our humanity and puts us in psychological balance, which results in a sense of connectedness with life’s goodness”.
Melody’s descriptions of boundaries as these appropriate, life-giving commitments to ensure we ourselves are healthy and with which others do the same for themselves is key for me in understanding and applying this prayer.
We are made to live into the fullness and beauty of our lives and all life has for us. To do so we must let others be free in just such a way so they can do the same. When we do that, their lives flourish and ours do too.
Yet we enter this world, beautiful and full, yet grow into it broken. Out of our deep brokenness we so often transgress other’s life-giving boundaries, let them transgress ours, and even transgress our own. Since to walk with God is to do justly and love mercy – to live with respect toward other’s needs for life, fullness, and meaning (Micah 6:8), when we transgress such boundaries, we also transgress God’s boundaries. And nature itself, as we are discovering in our ever-growing ecological crisis, has boundaries too that transgressing can cause the fabric of life itself to become undone.
This prayer invites us to embrace the gift of our own boundaries, not being afraid to let others know what we need and where we cannot accept our boundaries being trampled, while also recognizing the need to do the same for others. But it goes a step further, doesn’t it? It invites us to imagine ways forward when this happens in our lives. For we all come into relationships – with God, others, ourselves, nature – with tendencies that can lead us to transgress each other, God, and our world. We are invited to consider how we can give open spaces for healing those breaches, for allowing us to begin again with each other, with God, and with our world in ways that don’t abandon these life-giving boundaries but embrace them.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that is what forgiveness can look like as we journey with this grace and truth-giving God we find embodied in Jesus : not rolling over like a doormat, nor steam-rolling over others, but being open to new ways of relating which embrace starting fresh with healthy boundaries and life-giving love.
May you find that this day. I know I sure want to.
Your progressive redneck preacher,