My first Advent book was this slender volume of reflections on the various phrases of the Our Father, closing with the doxology and a beautiful little thing about praying with Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son. I read it because Wes is a friend, but ended up finding treasures in it, so I’m writing about it in case some of you all want to check it out.
It’s an uneven book. You’ll likely have your own list of which chapters you needed and which didn’t quite work for you; I thought the chapters on “Save us from the time of trial” (more familiar to us as “Lead us not into temptation”) and “And deliver us from evil” were awkwardly structured in ways which made it harder to understand how Jesus’ prayer could be a model for mine.
But I hope I will remember other things from this book for a long time: like the reminder that “Jesus himself models the posture of dependence on God that He commends to His followers. (This is our recurring theme. As Karl Barth puts it, ‘The Commander… embodies the command.’)” That’s from “Give us today our daily bread,” one of the strongest chapters, whose structure carries us from our own neediness to Jesus’ willing assumption of dependence to His gift of Himself in the Eucharist.
The Lord’s Prayer is about who Jesus is in our lives, and it helps us see that our journey here is not solely about rescue (though we absolutely need that) but about intimacy with Christ and delight in Him. Praising God is part of how we delight in Him. The reward for loving God is God Himself. He is sweetness beyond even the great hope of “a reconciled community” or “a clean conscience.” The doxology gives us a foretaste of the next life, “when we will have no more need to ask God for bread, for absolution, or for rescue,” and petition will dissolve into pure praise.
The coda on Rembrandt is equally lovely. I’m going to quote it in the Gay & Catholic sequel, because the central idea of that book will be that Christian homophobia has taught gay people an image of God which is false and destructive, and the purpose of the book will be to replace that false god with the God Who is Love. And Wes’s coda is all about the character of God the Father. What is He like? Wes says:
To pray for this Father’s kingdom to come and this Father’s will to be done is to pray for a reign of mercy, kindness, humility, and profligate divine generosity. It is to pray that debts would be remitted, rebellion ended with homecoming, and banquets held for the dissolute and the self-righteous alike. It is to pray not for the iron-fisted rule of a tyrant but for the self-giving reign of a Father who loves.
That’s a good place to close, I think. You can order the book here.