Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Reflection – On Friday’s blog the Pope wrote about the Our Father as a prayer which uniquely bears us into Christ’s own prayer to his Father, and hence into the very heart and life of the Trinity. He urged us to study the words of the prayer carefully, as the deepest truths about God, and hence the deepest truths about man, are held within it. So, being shepherded by our good German in that way, I am blogging my way through the Lord’s prayer for a few days.
So right after the words ‘Our Father’ comes these next words, perhaps a bit remote to us, ‘who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.’ Children of the space age and the Copernican universe, heaven to us either means that place we go when we die about which we know precisely nothing, or the vast empty expanses of outer space, where William Shatner boldly goes where no man has gone before.
Neither of these is terribly helpful to praying the Lord’s prayer, nor has much connection to the Greek word ouranois, or the Hebrew shamayim. God is not someone who we only meet when we die, or someone living light years away from us, accessible only if the warp drive is functioning.
Without getting into the whole intricacies of ancient cosmology—the concentric heavenly spheres of the Ptolemaic universe and all that—I think the simplest way of understanding ‘the heavens’ and God living there is that it is a way of saying that God is of a different order of being than us. The earthly realm and the heavenly realm were seen as radically different in essential ways, and God is not of the earthly mode of being.
God is transcendent, in other words. He is not the little god living in the shrine or temple, not a god who roams around like Zeus or Apollo seducing maidens or getting jealous of heroes. God is of an entirely different order of being from us, and this is the significance of His being ‘in heaven.’
He is not distant from us—He is our Father!—but he is different. And this difference calls forth from us a fundamental attitude which is reverence. Hallowed be thy name. This petition is so crucial, right at the beginning of the prayer, because we have this terrible human habit of reducing God to our size, cutting God up into the little bits that suit us and rejecting or at least ignoring the rest, and treating God as a hired servant here to do our bidding and arrange the world to our liking… that is, if He really loves us, He would do that for us.
Especially as Jesus reveals God to us in such intimate terms of fatherhood, we need an immediate salutary reminder that this father of ours is Father. We are not to tremble in fear of Him or keep our distance from His lest we offend Him, but we are to always approach Him on our knees, and with deep humility and reverence.
He is in heaven; we are not. We don’t really know all that much about God-as-God. We know quite a lot about how He wants us to live and what His fundamental attitude and action towards us is, but God Himself remains an unfathomable and awesome mystery.
And we acknowledge and live in the truth of this mystery by reverence. We of
North America of the year 2013 have to work a bit to get there. We are so flippant, so irreverent, so ironic about everything. I am prone to that, certainly. To make fun of everything, up to and including God, is seen as a positive value, a virtue, something that establishes us (frankly) as the smartest person in the room, the one who can see through sham piety and cant, who won’t be taken in by anything.
Well, when it comes to God, if we won’t be taken in, we will have to remain outside. It is not really so smart to mock God, as it places us wholly outside the basic attitude necessary to be in communion with Him. It’s not that He gets angry with us and smites us; it is that we are so outside of reality when we do this that He who is the Real cannot reach us. We have to get real with God, and that reality is reverence and humble adoration.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.