Does our frequent use of the Lord’s Prayer result in it becoming a rote prayer with little power?
Before COVID, I took communion on one or two Sundays a month to residents of a local nursing home. One of the residents on the Alzheimer’s floor (we will call her Mary Jane) has always been eager to receive communion, but on this occasion became quite agitated and even accused me of wanting to do her harm. I was shocked as was her attendant, who tried to calm and assure her that everything was fine. She would have none of it, and I retreated to call on other residents.
The next time I returned to the home, I found Mary Jane just finishing her breakfast and I asked if she wanted to receive communion. She did not respond. I knelt down beside her chair and asked if she would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. I started to say it slowly, “Our Father who art in heaven…” She quietly joined in, “Hallowed be thy name.” As we continued, she pronounced each word in a slow deliberate fashion, “Thy – kingdom – come, thy – will – be – done, on – earth – as – it – is – in – heaven.” She grew more emphatic, “Give – us – this- day – our – daily – bread, – and – forgive – us – our – trespasses – as – we – forgive – those – who – trespass – against – us.” With a smile on her face and a look of accomplishment, we continued, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I gave her communion, and then to my surprise, she said, “I love you.” I responded, “I love you, too, Mary Jane.” What a contrast to my prior visit!
In reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Mary Jane may have been recalling a prior time in her relationship with God — perhaps in church, maybe a personal prayer or a family prayer time. We can only speculate what she may have been thinking, but it brought her a sense of joy and peace.
We should not underestimate the power of this prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples how to pray. Its proclamation of the holiness and omnipotence of God, its petitions that God’s will to be done on this earth, that our daily needs be provided, that our sins be forgiven as we forgive others, and that we be protected from temptation and evil are a profound and eloquent summation of what counts most in life.
Why should we be surprised that this prayer, testifying to the kingdom, glory and power of God, awakens a soul in the shadow of Alzheimer’s?
A good exercise for us might be to say the Lord’s Prayer very slowly as Mary Jane did, hanging on each word, and meditating on each phrase.