The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of a disciple. It is made in trust and dependence and with the assurance that it will be heard. If that assurance is lacking we can make a beginning anyway. We can pray in obedience, as a faithful disciple. Not in blind obedience, but relying upon our own response to the words and message of Jesus, even if the response is undeveloped and so deep that we have yet to fully apprehend it. We know it is there.
This spirit of obedience frees us to pray when we have no inclination, when we feel muddled and at a loss, when we decide “we aren’t getting anywhere.” All of these self-judgements are not the stubborn obstacles they may seem. When faced and passed through, the apparent barrier falls away.
This depends however, on setting a rule, and of keeping it. Better not to embark upon the Lord’s Prayer as a practice until the decision to commit is fully taken. It is unclear why, but skipping a time of prayer, making an excuse “just this once,” always results in far more difficulties than one imagines. John of the Cross cautions that “he who interrupts the course of his spiritual exercises and prayer is like one who allows a bird to escape from his hand; he can hardly catch it again.”
We perhaps have already seen in the past that we can lose our way easily and that it can take a long time before the wish to pray comes to the surface again. Even so, we all need reminders. Knowing this, Christ teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If the emerging hunger for real being is not fed every day, we lose our way.
We can lose sight of the fact that a wish to pray now is not solely the result of our decision. Rather it comes to us when for a time we are open to the current of prayer already present within us. If we omit our prayer even for one day we are in danger of falling asleep again, and of bringing upon our next beginning–if it comes–more troubles than before. If we think it is our decision to pray or not, that we can stop and begin as we wish, we are in danger of losing the track for many months, or even years.
Choose Your RuleBecause of this, it is better to set a rule we know is possible for us. It is better to begin with a period of ten minutes once a day and be sure of keeping it than to set a longer rule we are more likely to neglect or skip. We begin, and we set aside our own will in this one matter. In doing so, the strength of our self-will will be exposed in a way that it had perhaps not been before. As a disciple, you create for yourself a new condition, a condition of conscious choice. It is the first sign of inner freedom, for what characterizes freedom more than choice?
Every day begins anew, and we choose anew—to turn consciously toward freedom or to submit to the forces ready to sweep us irretrievably into the stuff of the day, into submission and servitude to outer demands. This is why for most of us a period of morning prayer is essential, and if possible another period before retiring.
This ability to choose is a gift. We choose our rule as a disciple, and obey with joy.
Adapted from The Prayer of Fire: Experiencing the Lord’s Prayer.