We embark on a journey into the unknown each time we encounter the Lord’s Prayer. We are unknown to ourselves, and the meaning of the prayer is only partially perceived at each approach.

Familiarity with the taste of my habitual self and with the words of the prayer do nothing to alter these essential truths: for most of us, each time we begin, God is a concept, the prayer itself is an idea, and I myself am not present.

My mind may be filled with distractions that at that moment are not so much distractions as the center of my interest. There is no sense in denying reality. The only possible starting point is wherever we are, with our experience of the moment. We need and wish to be sincere while listening to the prayer, and the following questions help us to begin finding this sincerity.

Once the words of the Lord’s Prayer are repeated slowly once through, pausing between each phrase as seems appropriate, it is useful to examine what just took place.

  1. Do you remember saying each word of the prayer?
  2. Were you attracted to certain passages?
  3. Did you react negatively to others?
  4. Did you say the words of the prayer but lack a sense of praying?
  5. Short as the prayer is, were you nonetheless distracted and unable to give it your attention from beginning to end?
  6. Where did the words resonate?
  7. Did they begin and end in the mind only?
  8. Were you aware of your body and your breathing?
  9. Do you have expectations when you say the prayer? Do you know what they are?
  10. Are you disappointed in either the prayer or yourself, feeling somehow you have failed, or the prayer has failed you?
  11. Or instead is the prayer reassuring? Does it have comforting childhood associations?
  12. Does it make you feel that everything is all right, that you belong, and that nothing bad can happen to you?
  13. Are you afraid that the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer eludes you?
  14. Do you want to “get” something from the prayer?
  15. What is it you hope to “get”?

We see layer by layer all that we bring to the prayer, and all that must be laid aside.



Knowing us, and knowing our need, Christ urges us not only to pray, but to watch. This is not a command or an injunction. It is a counsel, full of understanding, full of kindness and compassion for our situation, full of love and care. Watch and pray, he tells us. And watch while praying. He knows us, and he knows our condition: we are situated in freedom and subject to many forces both within and without.

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). He knows our nature, our weakness and our yearning. He has already fully anticipated every contradiction and difficulty we may encounter. Watch, and pray.

Over and over through the centuries, the Lord’s Prayer has been declared a mirror. It is a glass that first reflects before we begin to see through, even dimly.

[This post has been adapted from my book The Prayer of Fire: Experiencing the Lord’s Prayer. More information available at]

Image: “Lost in a Virtual Wood,” Eneas de Troya/

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