A three part meditation on an ancient prayer
This is a book-length excerpt
By Philip Holsinger
“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is an ancient book that no modern man has seen. Scholars debate whether it existed at all. But most agree it did exist. They refer to this mysterious book simply as Q. Q, scholars say, was the manuscript of Jesus’ quotations. It was the source for the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Q, scholars agree, must have been the source for what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.”
One day Jesus said this: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Some say the prayer from Q was given to be repeated word for word as an exact replica of how Jesus spoke it. Some say Jesus intended the prayer to be a general guide for how to pray. Most accept a little of both views and they pray the words like Jesus is said to have prayed them and freely add their own needs and requests between the lines.
The prayer is a powerful introduction for the believer. It speaks to a new world and a new way of thinking. The believer is invited to pray, “Our Father…” For those whose strength fails, as it must for all, the prayer becomes a safeguard. The prayer becomes the mental cord drawing us out of the fog of our pain and failing back to the only one who will save us, God the Father, who alone is the will to determine our fate. The prayer gives us words in a time where there are no words. And in times of calm the prayer becomes a conduit for guiding our meditation on the whole of scripture to reveal to the believer the never-ending depths of wisdom found in every morsel of the Word of the Lord.
BOOK ONE: INTRODUCING THE KINGDOM OF GOD’S WILL
For weeks I have been meditating on what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. Particularly on the second statement: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” And what it says about this: “On earth as it is in heaven.”
I have a kingdom I am seeking but I am afraid it has long been the kingdom of me. The prayer asks for another kingdom to come.
This is the kingdom of the will that is not mine. And this is the part I have been meditating on. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Not the kingdom of my will, but another.
I was reading how Daniel prayed for something from God. He prayed for almost a month. Shockingly an angel appears. And aside from the intended message of this story, what grabs my attention is the fact that this story reveals that there is more to reality than just the world our eyes see. There is another kingdom, one of Gods and angels.
The angel has been dispatched to travel. The angel is carrying a message from another kingdom. This is really Chronicles of Narnia stuff going on here.
We dismiss Greek mythology for its fantastic tales. But the Greek stories reflect something true, if you believe what the Bible teaches. There is an unseen world. This is true. And it is not reached by crossing physical rivers. It is another dimension altogether. A dimension accessed through secret passages. A River of Styx. A wardrobe.
When the angel shows up and reveals itself, and reveals it was dispatched weeks prior when Daniel first made his request, we catch a glimpse of this “heaven” of the Lord’s prayer. Not the place, but the fact that this other kingdom is governed by a will.
This is heaven’s will in the flesh that has come to Daniel. It is a secret messenger dispatched from an unseen place that is both here and yet not reachable by human effort. Heaven comes to man, man does not go to heaven. Yet.
I thought about this and I began to ask myself questions like, how is my will in conflict with heaven’s will? What does heaven’s will look like? Is there a value “out there” that I am ignoring as I fight to have my own way? What does heaven want?
So in different situations I have started imagining heaven looking down on me. I ask myself, what is the will of heaven and those looking down on me in this situation? I begin to imagine that my life—especially my secret life—is not lived in secret. I ask, hey, what do you guys up there think about this? I think of myself as Matthew McConaughey in Edtv. Everyone can see me. But they aren’t voyeurs. They are the people of heaven and they are the obedient populating the obedient community. They can teach me. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Considering that heaven has a way that is different from mine has forced me to know that nothing I do is ever in secret and that there is a will that is different from mine.
Of course it is easy to see where this thinking leads. The book of Hebrews in the Bible paints a picture of heaven looking down “like a great cloud of witnesses” encouraging me to keep heaven’s will and not my own. It might be the coolest couple of chapters in the whole Bible. In this section there is a picture of this other kingdom: “You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.” (The Message) Wow!
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Yet I have taken these words for granted my whole life. I have prayed them from kneeling rails in pews. I say “your will be done” but like a gambler rolls his dice. I don’t really mean “your will be done.” I really mean, “whatever.” Because I have no idea what is God’s will. I only hope it is what I want it to be. I’m not actually looking for that “city of the living God.” I’m looking for New York City.
But I overlook this clue—“as it is in heaven.” This prayer gives me a geographical reference. I’m not just praying for a revelation for my will. I am praying for the curtain to be pulled back on the will of another place. This prayer references a specific kingdom. It points to the fact that this “will” is not just an ideal I am trying to discover or a philosophy I am trying to live up to, it is actually a practiced thing in the here and now of somewhere. God’s somewhere. Across the river of Styx they’re playing cards and I want in on the game.
To pray this prayer the way Jesus did is not to roll dice with no idea of the outcome. But to remind myself I can and should look for this will. And that it resides in a specific place.
I’m trying to be clever by talking about the River Styx. That’s a dark, scary place. I don’t think heaven is there. I just like throwing that out there. I like the idea of Jesus playing poker in Plato’s cave or duck-pin bowling with the Cyclops. Or standing with feet on each side of the dingy crossing Styx and rocking back and forth and saying “oops, oops,” to get a rise out of the nervous ferryman.
As a teacher I understand the importance of referencing a literal example. That is what this prayer is doing. This prayer is saying, let what is happening in that unseen kingdom govern what will happen here.
Daniel’s life is an example of a man who is always putting himself in a place where heaven’s will can be worked out in his life literally. He dares to pray when it is perilous. He dares to abstain from foods when he knows it is the right thing even when it is the odd thing. He risks death in the lion’s den not because he is standing on a principle or ideal or belief, but because he sees another kingdom and he knows what they are doing in that other kingdom and he knows that it is the real kingdom all other kingdoms dwell inside of. Daniel knows what the Psalmist wrote: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein.” Daniel did what he did in this world because he saw what was going on in the other.
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
I am amazed by this. By how easy it is to not pursue my interests but to pursue God’s interests. The theologians complicate and convolute the simplicity of a life lived facing the right direction when they make this prayer about anything other than about learning where to look. This prayer is about living a life facing the right will. The theologians take away facing any direction and ask us to commit to systems of belief.
Daniel literally faced heaven. He put his windows open and turned his body to God. Everything about his life prepared him for the moments he would have to ask for help from the only one who could help him. God.
“What is your will?” Daniel paused and abstained. And an angel was dispatched.
“Ask and you will receive.” Not receive what you want. “You do not get what you ask for because you ask for what you will use up on yourselves.”
Daniel asked “on earth.” He didn’t ask for his will to become heaven’s will, even though he was a ruler on earth with power. “Your will be done.” He looked where he wanted to find what God wants not what he wanted.
It is almost cliché the application of this. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” To obey what? Heaven’s desire, not my own.
I met some people in Vermont. They wore wooden crosses on strings and came into the little diner where we ate in a tourist village in the mountains. I asked one of them what the large woody crosses meant and he explained the crosses were for healing. Not a “symbol of” healing, but “for healing.” They were just attending a healing conference, another one of them said. “A Christian healing conference,” a third one said, and they all turned to give me their attention.
People will do anything to get their way—even dress up their selfishness with religion. I know that sounds hard and judgmental but I say it as an objective observation. Not to say these people were selfish. They were actually really nice. They grinned a lot and reached up and rubbed their polished wood crosses as they talked with me and nodded politely.
What I mean is to point out that we make a religion out of what we want more than we look for what God wants.
Our religion seeks to define our own will and align God to it.
I told them I hoped it worked out for them and that they would be healed. One man turned and with a smile he excitedly exclaimed they had been healed, in fact. He looked at me with eyes that asked if I wanted to know how.
So I asked, “Tell me, I have always thought about this. The worst kind of ailment is death. Tell me, if all this healing stuff works, why can’t I just be healed of that—of death? Why can’t I just live forever? You guys don’t have fountain of youth stuff in those crosses, do you? I’m not feeling as limber as I used to.”
Of course another one of the guys was excited to talk about this. I had given him a perfect alley-oop. He said, “Jesus did that. He gave us eternal life.” Bam! The crowd roared. I was ashamed of myself for handing it to him.
I believe it is true. I believe this is the hope Jesus talked about that he provides us. And I believe in the gifts of the Spirit and healing. But it is not what I meant and it is not what his canned answer meant either.
And besides, he missed the point my failed sarcasm attempted to make. I was trying to say that self-serving religion always does that. It is always about what we get. What we get out of it. It is about our will. Our life. Our goodies. Our biceps and new teeth. Our healing. Our heaven built for earth, on earth, a babbling tower to heaven. Funny oversized polished roots of trees for crosses on strings around necks as talismans.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
I wonder how Daniel would have conducted that healing conference. He would probably get a bunch of lions and starve them for weeks then gather all the attendees and say, “Let’s see whose will you are serving. If you trust you are truly serving God’s will then jump in.”
He wouldn’t mean to imply that obedience is a magic bullet that saves you just because you are doing the right thing. There is no evidence that Daniel believed he was owed survival or that it was deserved or necessary even. Daniel just believed that if it was God’s will, then he would survive. Simple as that. But surviving was not the goal or the requirement, even if it might have been his personal desire. “Your will be done.” His desire for physical pleasure and security—the will of man to survive and prosper—was not what guided him. Heaven’s will guided him. He was absolutely certain of one thing—the God he served was in charge and would either spare him for God’s glory or he would allow him to perish for God’s kingdom. Heaven’s will be done.
But if Daniel was conducting the conference and set out his starving lions to make a point, what would be the response?
Some attendees would argue by quoting scripture. They would say, “Do not tempt God.” Most would run away. Some would jump in and be devoured.
Daniel would say, “Wow, you guys are crazy. I’m not in charge. Why did you listen to me?” He would say, “This story isn’t about lions and rescue. This story is about heaven’s will. This story is about letting come to earth the will that governs heaven. This story is not about what happened in the lion’s den, it is about what I kept seeking in spite of the lion’s den.”
If Daniel was conducting the “Healing Conference” he would first get out his big Hebrew can of spray paint and cross out the word “Healing” and spray the word “Jesus” above it. “Jesus Conference.” If Jesus is magnified then everything God needs lifted up will be lifted up, even our requests for miraculous healing.
Well, anyway, the healers didn’t seem to have heaven’s will in mind. And I don’t think they appreciated my humor. I said “see ya!” and paid my pancake bill and headed out into the cool Vermont sunshine. I really felt kind of bad because I liked them. I liked their enthusiasm for Jesus. I just didn’t like what they were selling, which seemed to be “My will be done, in heaven as on earth.”
When I was younger I used to fret so much over what is God’s will I would fear what cereal was the “right” one for me to eat at breakfast. You think I’m kidding? I was obsessed with trying to make sure I was always in God’s “perfect will.” This is like a cult. The “Cult of God’s perfect will.” It is populated by desperate, loyal dogs. When I look back that’s what comes to mind. I think of all the great dogs I have had and how desperate they have been to please me. My dog Molly sits beside me and nervously watches for a sign of my desire.
Maybe that’s a poor illustration because that is actually what Daniel does. He eagerly looks to heaven expecting God will show him what is God’s desire. What is different between my dog Molly and Daniel is Daniel knows why he does what he does and it is a joy for him. Molly is a nervous mess and drives me nuts. That’s the part I’m talking about. I love her and wish she would just chill out sometimes and get out of traffic.
Back when I was worrying about my cereal the way Molly worries about a thrown stick I rightly understood that God’s will is perfect. But what I didn’t understand was his perfect will does not require I perfectly understand it. How could I expect to, I’m not God?
This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t an escape hatch to allow me to mess up and end up in the wrong place with the blonde girl down the street next weekend. I know better. It’s just that back when I was young and worrying about my morning cereal I didn’t know that my feet have a “large room” to move in. It’s called grace. And I say again, grace does not include a free pass to go with the blonde next-door clause. Grace is the freedom to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then live by behaving in a way I think would please heaven’s witnesses, like Moses. Or maybe David. Moses was a little stiff. In a way that pleases our Father in heaven.
When I pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I am submitting myself to turn on my spiritual earpiece. I am preparing myself to listen. I am Daniel and I am flinging open the windows of my apartment and praying to heaven to teach me and guide me, no matter the consequences. No matter if heaven asks me to do something I had not thought was necessary. To have my friend the king send me to the lions.
Like when the rich young man came to Jesus. After a lifetime of dedicated service to what he believed to be the will of heaven the story says the young man “ran up to” Jesus and fell at his feet and asked the most important question any human will ever ask—the question we all will ask: He said, “What must I do to have eternal life?”
Most people get hung up on the wrong thing here. Jesus asks the young man to sell all his stuff and follow Him. The story says the young man chose not to and went away sad. So people think the story is about stuff. But it’s about will. The thread in this story is the young man’s faithfulness to obey all the scripture teaches him. The story says the young man told Jesus he has obeyed faithfully “all” of it and that Jesus knew it was true, because it says that Jesus looked at the young man and loved him for his sincerity. But the young man had something wrong. He approached Jesus as a “good teacher” and this is what Jesus ceased on. Jesus said, “no one is good but God.” Jesus was saying to the young man, “You are right in your obedience, but don’t think I’m a guy who is going to just give you good advice. What you must do is give your will over. You must decide who I am. You must face the fact that I am the Lord come to earth. What will you do with me? The only answer is that you will put me first and take only your security from me.”
Well, I’m putting words in Jesus’ mouth. But I think it might have went down this way. Jesus was pretty cool. But he was also pretty harsh.
This young man had will. He was determined to follow all the rules and get what he wanted out of life. Hear this, get what “he” wanted. But he wasn’t willing to get what Jesus wanted out of his life. Jesus threw him a slider and the man ducked into the dust of home plate. He was never able to swing the bat again. He walked off the field and forfeited the game. He couldn’t get past giving up his will for heaven’s will.
And neither could I. I tried everything to reach God. Mostly I tried religion. I tried obedience and right living and self-discipline and I failed again and again. And again and again it is the essence of this prayer that comes back to me. The question of when will I cease my striving to get my own way? The question of when will I bow and submit my will and give God the glory that is only His? “Hallowed be your name.”
Like the rich young ruler, The Prayer was a slider coming at me. I had no idea the test that was about to come. And it would be The Prayer that would be the vehicle to carry me through it. Not the prayer, but the one I prayed to. The bowed man crying out to God from the desperation of a malformed life, a lifetime of rebellion, a man stranded on an island of mistakes, helpless with nowhere to turn but heavenward.
BOOK TWO: THE PRAYER
Or Tyles Sawyer’s Night Vision After A Trauma At the Edge of the Sea
Tyles Sawyer was a hard man. I am Tyles Sawyer. His life the granite shoals the sea wore against but would not move. No matter the amount of ships wrecked on him, traps fouled, he was anchored to some unseen canyon floor the bottom of sea. Dark and dreadful where all anchors be.
You reap what you sow. And faith is like a mustard seed, he said to himself in the dark. You reap the little thing that is planted. The thing blooms. It flowers as joy or burden.
Tyles Sawyer was a man burdened. Histories fanned by the winds of cold island shores burned bright in their final destructions. All of his history, hard men begetting hard men.
Tyles heart was not with the seas even as his heart was born of seas. Tyles Sawyer didn’t fit in. And his life was spent wandering every space but these where his father said he was meant to sleep.
Yearly pilgrimages brought him to this. Returning to the family cottage and the ghosts. But there were the lighted moments too. The good memories of Fourth-of-July parties and fireworks from the Winslow family barge. It wasn’t all a torment.
He had failed the marriage years before but dared to invite her back with them. They shared a daughter after all and claimed to be friends.
But friends they could not be where every word is a misstep and trespass, time comes fear. And the fear always comes.
It was a horrible fight that sent him here to the wharf on this night. The wreckage of his relationship with his ex wife and daughter lay buried somewhere inside the yellow light glow of the cottage on the hill above the bay. Worse than when they were a family and more damning. They were packing. The brief vacation made even briefer by the horror of outbursts.
It took a lot for me to trust you, she said. All my friends said it would be a mistake to come. It was a mistake.
His anger lived inside him like a virus for which he was history’s verdant host. It seethed beneath the waves of him where average eyes could not see. She knew it well. Had lived in its poison silence and suffered the long absences of travel he claimed were required, but one she knew whose purpose only to be escape. She believed him it was cured. She believed he was better now. Well-adjusted and able to take a joke. Have drink and laugh. He believed it too, because he was the master of self-deception.
She said, this was a mistake. This changes things. I will never look at you the same.
Their daughter retreated into the silence of her own fear—a toxic stillness she had been cultivating under the storms of her mother’s own verbal violence. Now it was the father too. At least at a distance he looked like a good man. Forced to choose a loyalty she had no choice but to choose her mother. It would be where she would sleep.
He stood on the wharf in the black space of infinite unknowing unable even to contemplate suicide. He contemplated instead a prayer he had been taught as a child. A prayer that was the only thing of light to rise into his darkness.
Tyles Sawyer prayed.
Tyles Sawyer said:
How did this happen? How have I ended up standing here in the dark alone while the two women I love are inside hurting from my words? Broken. I have broken them and hurt myself.
And over what? My bruised ego? My feeling insecure? My unmet expectations?
How is it I am standing here on a wharf on an island in one of the most beautiful places in the world and my life is surrounded not by peace and laughter—as we had planned—but by darkness and despair?
I have nothing left but prayer. I cannot even run. There is nowhere to run to until morning. Even a phone conversation requires a trip to the mainland for spotty cell service in the grocery parking lot.
I can do nothing but pray, “Father.” I cry, “Father.” Abba. Daddy. “Father in heaven. Hallowed be your name.”
There is nothing else I can do. “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” Not my kingdom. Not my insecurity and fear that leads me to hurt and harm, but your kingdom. “Come.” I need you. I need your rule. I need your governance. I need your world not mine.
“Your will…” not mine “be done… on earth as it is in heaven.”
Dear God, as I stand here in the wreckage of my selfishness please descend with your kingdom of love and peace.
When we drove to the rocky coast days earlier all we could see was the possibility of new discoveries and peace. But amid the discoveries was the revelation of my unsettled spirit. And I lashed out ferociously. I opened my mouth and tangled us up in the knotted confusion of hurtful words and questionable motives.
Why did you invite us here? She asked me with a face distorted by fears and tears.
Why did I bring them here? Why am I standing here on this wharf with nowhere now to go?
“Give us this day our daily bread.” I am famished for you. They are starved. I have withheld from them the only food that can nourish the soul—Joy and hope. I have robbed this island of joy tonight. How can they hope for anything except the morning boat for their escape? “Our daily bread.”
“Forgive us our sins.” But of course. My sins. Who knew my sins were so great? It was like all my old secrets rose from me tonight to destroy my family in harsh words.
You left me, I said hatefully. You abandoned me, I said to her. Fear. Worry. Insecurity.
I stand on the wharf and look across the cove. The lights of the docks and other houses flickering in the midnight. The whole world asleep. Across black waters my history with this place coming back to me.
I have this memory of the night I was introduced to a book that changed my life, The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.
When I was here on this island as a college student I was just beginning to lose faith. I was questioning my beliefs and was arriving at a self-righteous mindset that God did not exist and that it is the will of man that is the engine of the world. Will, not love, not desire. Surely not hope. Will.
I don’t remember if the atheism and discussion of will came before the book, The Fountainhead, or after. But it happened on this island in this summer season I am now remembering.
One night I was drinking with a friend after our shift at the resort where we worked and we ended up back at his father’s house here on the island. Everything had closed down and we were drunk and it was late. We road our bikes to his father’s house in a thick woodland at the south of the island at the edge of the sea so we could get some sleep.
The house was big. Long. I remember how unique its design was to me. It was like it had wings. On one end was a main room. On the other end another large room. In between there was a long corridor with bedrooms and various other rooms. The place had the effect of allowing you to feel like you were alone in your particular part of the house because so much distance was between the two far ends of the place.
I had never met his father. We went in to the house and made our way down one long corridor to meet his father in the main room at one end of the house.
I was 21 at the time and his father must have been in his mid to late forties. His father was seated in a large padded chair and he was drunker than both of us. He could hardly stand or speak, yet he offered a big, dumb smile and attempted a brisk handshake as he rose to greet me with one hand while he balanced a drink in the other.
Meeting him I was immediately struck by a sadness about the place. The house was clearly costly, so it was obvious the family had some degree of financial success. Add the fact this was their summer home. I think their winter home was in Connecticut. How incredible, I thought, to have so much and yet have nothing. That is what my memory remembers thinking.
When I was taken to my room for the night I saw The Fountainhead for the first time. I picked it up and asked my friend about it and he was stunned by my ignorance of the book. He proceeded to explain the importance of the book, stressing the importance the book had in forming the financial success in his father’s life as a financial speculator (what he meant I did not know but I figured it had something to do with Wall Street finances). He told me that this particular copy of the book was given him by his father. He was passionate about the book, though he admitted he had not read it like his father hoped he would.
Intrigued by the claim that a fictional novel was the foundation for the early success that built this elaborate house at the edge of the sea in this beautiful woodland on this rugged island I stayed up late into the morning reading it. Then I got a copy of my own and gobbled it down. The book fed my desire to prove that I did not need to rely on any God or circumstance for my own success, but only on my own determination.
The book’s hero is Howard Roark, a redheaded, self-sustained man who is guided by his otherworldly skill and a single-minded devotion to his vision for his life’s perfection. He was an architect, which is what I aspired to be. The book connected itself to me and I used it to define my new philosophy that we can be self-made men.
One thing bothered me from that experience, though. The darkness and sadness in that house. The freedom I saw in the single-minded Howard Roark seemed to have nothing in common with that place or that father who claimed the book as inspiration.
When I met the father that night he gripped my shoulder and asked about my life and ambitions and expressed that his son had told him about me and that I clearly seemed to be a unique boy with vision and drive—two things, he seemed to imply, his privileged son lacked. I remember the man told me these compliments while his son stood next to me.
What bothered me most from this experience is what I learned later. I had heard gossip on the island about some privileged man who shot his wife in the back with a shotgun in their living room in their big house on the island and had gotten away with it by saying it was an accident. The gossip was that they were both drunk and often abusive and that the man said he had stumbled with the gun and accidentally shot her in the back and killed her.
This story was about this man. I had stood in the room where his wife had been shot and he shook my hand. What had bothered me was the sadness and hypocrisy. I read The Fountainhead and when I did I believed it possible a man like Howard Roark could really be, and could achieve the beautiful satisfaction of a life lived purely for the will. I believed it possible I could grow up to be the red-headed wonder named Howard Roark who lived to achieve, at all costs, the perfect vision of his will. I became a student of the book effortlessly. But always at the back of my mind was the image of this drunk failure of a murderous father and the suspicion no book can ever make a man.
Here I am on this wharf. And though I had not drawn a shotgun, the effect of my behavior was just the same. Back up on the hill inside the yellow wood lights of the cottage were two women suffering what might turn out being the mortal wounds of my anger.
What is worse is that I ceased being a student of this book years ago. Long ago I realized my will could not achieve the mastery of my world. What is worse is that I am actually a man who claims to have faith in the will of God and not my own. I call myself a Christian.
Now I am standing in the dark on this wharf and I have no control over anything. “Forgive us our sins. And forgive those who sin against us.”
I long for them to know this prayer not only for their own peace, but so they might forgive me.”
I stand on the wharf and pray because what else can I do? But even as I pray it… “Your will be done.” Even as I ask forgiveness and try to give it I resist on one point.
I hesitate to ask, “Lead us not into temptation… Deliver us from the evil one.” My pride resists it, to pray for help in overcoming temptation.
That old book The Fountainhead is still inside me, hints of a belief that by my will I can overcome the temptation to feel rejection and hurt and to lash out. But I cannot resist it. I am not Howard Roark and I am not in control.
I stand in the darkness and have but one light I can see at the end of the dark tunnel of this experience—that God will hear my prayer. Which is his prayer. Your will, not mine. Your kingdom, not mine. Your provisions, not mine. Your forgiveness in order to help me with mine. Not my will to overcome temptation, but God’s will. Recognizing more than anything that the battle I am fighting on this dark wharf is not with flesh and blood, but with forces unseen, I pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
I pray. My friend has told me that there are only two motivations in life—fear and faith. We pursue a choice or a thought in the belief it will save us from what we fear, or because we are guided by a knowledge of what we are assured of—our hope. Our faith.
I stand here and am protected by his faith, even if I do not have it. It is the dark loneliness of knowing you are not in control.
Control. It is the very thing she accused me of. I know as much as I want to deny it that part of what she says is true.
Howard Roark still haunts me.
But I am not in control. This tide will come tonight to these pilings holding the wood beneath me. These waters will move with the weight o God’s law spinning the earth and moon and I can’t do a single thing to change it. I can only pray.
And time stands still. The back of my dark blue dress shirt is marked white by the old stain of the banister and pier pole where I lean back and long for things to be different.
A peace that emerges like a flower of light in the dark water cave of my muted sorrow is the knowledge that time comes. It takes time. What a harsh word has done to break a heart in a moment will take the careful mending of time to heal.
We are three ships and our hulls are cracked and though we are taking on water I must have faith that in the harbor of the one I pray to we will be spared a watery death.
I cannot rescue them with a prayer—or even myself—but I can pray. In fact it is all I do. I turn to look at the cottage where the lights have now gone out. I leave the wharf and climb the path to the door and trust in whom I pray to. The pine trees whisper their confidence even in the dark sadness of their dying—“Our Father.”
We came to Maine so I could photograph the lobstermen at work. I have come to journey with my old friend and mentor of the sea, Captain Craig Sproul, sea captain of the Linda Lee.
I tell Craig I’m on his boat to take care of unfinished business. Eight summers earlier I had worked as his sternman with the intention of photographing the lobstering life from the inside. I never completed the picture. Instead I left to go back to try and save a crumbling relationship. One that did come apart in the end.
I am on his boat again, this time only as a spectator. He has allowed me to spend some time aboard to photograph him for a magazine article. I am on his boat again and the same relationship is in the balance.
After two years of trust-building we are all three on the island together again. They are exploring and enjoying life, and I am explaining and looking for life.
We didn’t say this trip was about the three of us, but in a way we all wondered. For sure it took a lot of courage for all of us to come back here together. I think Craig understands the unfinished business is as much about the three of us even if we don’t know it yet.
Craig is like a father. He is 69. Many years my senior. He is an image of security that I might have if I were to paint a picture of what a father looks like.
He has big hands but they are gentle.
Craig gently lifts traps. He gently instructs his help. I know he hasn’t always been gentle, but he is now.
Today he has a young temporary helper onboard. He picks up the slack and does not push the guy even though I know things could be moving a lot faster. I remember when I was working in this position.
He gently instructs when he reminds the worker of things the worker should already know.
When the boat suddenly runs aground on a dangerous shoal several miles off shore he does not get angry and swear. He does what he can. He gets the boat to deeper waters then inspects the decks below.
“Doe she have a hole in her?” I ask him. “Don’t know,” he says. He knows enough not to worry. He’ll keep an eye on her, he says. And we continue fishing. We only have two strings left to set anyway. And plus there is something Craig has said he has been wanting to show me.
We quickly finish the two strings on the westward side of Damariscove Island and there it is, what he has wanted to show me. Whole ledges covered in nesting cormorants.
“I have never seen it before,” he says. Which is saying a lot for a man who has been fishing along this remote desert island in the cold Atlantic for 58 years.
I comment on how amazing it is that all of a sudden so many of these birds would form a new habit. Craig points out the contrary, saying, “No it is not so amazing. Animals adapt, you know. If they don’t then they don’t survive. And if they don’t survive maybe they are not supposed to.”
I feel like he has just gently instructed me on something much deeper than an invasive species of sea birds. Animals adapt. “If they don’t then they don’t survive.”
The disciples asked Jesus how to pray. This is how he began. “Our father who is in heaven.” It is a shocking way to begin.
I don’t say it for pity, but I have never really had a father. My stepfather, who is a good man—steady and courageous like Captain Craig—has tried to be there for me but I never allowed him that kind of leadership in my life. I think in many ways much of my troubled personality comes back to this.
When everything began to happen the other night and I felt my grip loosening and the lines unraveling that attached me to my moorings, I longed to just phone my stepfather and ask him for help. But what help could he provide me?
What an incredible thing for Jesus to say to these followers of his. To ask them to address the all-powerful originator of all things with so personal a title.
I looked at the nesting cormorants and had the strangest thought—I wished not only that I had a father who could teach me but I wanted to be able to bring my stepfather here and show him this ledge. I just wanted him to be there. I didn’t just want something from him, I wanted him to have something too.
Just being on the boat with Craig helped.
I looked at the cormorants and thought, “Our father who is in heaven.”
[A side note: Jesus told his followers not to worry. He pointed to the birds and said, “Look at the birds. They do not work, yet look how God takes care of them.” Jesus said God numbers every hair on my head—a constantly changing number—which means God is unfathomably attentive to our needs and desires. Jesus said to ask God for what we need—more on our requests later]
Our father. Who is in heaven.
It’s still night and I’m on the wharf praying. “Hallowed be your name.”
Earlier, before I started the fight, we were walking down to the cottage from the road, and the Little One, she pointed out the Big Dipper constellation. She said how she had commented on it the night before to her boyfriend when she found a single bar of cell reception at the corner of the roof balcony. She said she looked up and was surprised by the glittery sky. “I never see it in the city,” she said. “It was amazing.”
I am standing here now in the same night but no longer feeling the warmth of her amazement. I pray and the prayer acknowledges another amazement, even if it is at this moment cold and providing no feeling of warmth. “Hallowed,” “Glorious” be God’s name. Maker of the stars. This expanse hanging over me like a million lights about to explode.
I say it out loud. “Hallowed be your name.” I replace the words so I can see it better in my mind. “How glorious is your name.” Then I say it another way in order to test the meaning and hear what it sounds like. I say, “I acknowledge that you are the creator of all, that you spoke this into being with a word.” I look at the stars the Little One noticed and I think, truly this is unfathomable what you have done, so it is beyond all understanding how glorious must be the one who created it.
Several years ago I was driving and listening to National Public Radio when an unusual classical music piece came on. At that time I was experiencing the first tremors in what was to be a first series of earthquakes in our relationship—the Little One’s mother and I. The music was so moving I pulled the car over to listen and cried. I had never had that experience before. The piece was Symphony 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki.
I became an immediate fan. Then I learned Gorecki is a contemporary and was alive and well in Poland. I immediately struck up a dialogue with his publicist and we discussed how I might be permitted to photograph the aging composer and interview him for a magazine. I was amazed to discover he was alive so I wanted to jump at the chance to get to know the name behind the creation—the real person.
“Hallowed is your name.” Standing under that starry sky in a shroud of sadness like a flannel shirt in the warm sun it was not lost on me how incredible it is I can meet the creator of this. “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name.” It is better than meeting Gorecki would have been.
“Your kingdom come.”
YOUR KINGDOM COME
On Captain Craig’s boat is a digital plotter. Eight years ago he didn’t have one but plotted manually with charts. But whether he is plotting on a chart spread out above the helm, or looking at a digital image, it isn’t the two-dimensions of the chart colors and numbers he is seeing. When Craig looks at a chart he sees a whole world beneath him. He sees the deep, dark depths of the seas and all the creatures teaming beneath the waters. He sees the kingdom of the sea.
I got back to Ohio after the fight and was telling new stories of the adventures in Maine as a way of trying not to think about what was lost. I told my stepfather “When Captain Craig looks out at the blue black waters of the sea he does not see what I see—the hilly swells rolling under the boat. When Craig looks at these waters he sees a whole world below. He sees canyons and cliffs and boulders and deserts of mud. He sees not only the lobsters he wants to catch, but all the other creatures he has fished up one way or another over the years—the flat-faced halibut, sea urchins, all of it. Craig sees a kingdom I cannot see.
At one time or another Craig has drawn up almost everything living and dead from the world beneath the thin membrane we float on, the surfaces of the sea.
The sea is Craig’s kingdom and yet it is invisible to me. I only see what is above the waters.
When we get back to the island the first thing we did was head to Dogfishhead for the rocks and the tiny beach. It was night and the girls took out their serviceless cell phones to use as flashlights and combed the beach and exposed kelp beds for sea treasures. Their mission for this trip was sea glass.
I hiked through the kelp and across watery rocks and climbed what is half the day, a tall rock island.
We had returned, the three of us, to the kingdom of my second youth.
There were tensions coming from me on the trip here. We had decided to drive so the girls could sightsee northern New England. And so I could bring the bicycles. But by driving we were not only crossing the country, we were dissecting the kingdom of my memories.
The first ten years of my life after high school I crisscrossed this part of America, traveling home with friends from college to southern Pennsylvania, working a spring break on a dairy farm in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, serving two summers as a camp counselor in upstate New York and in inner city New York City, working a semester at an inn in the Berkshire Mountains of Connecticut, an internshp in Washington, D.C., trips to Boston and Providence Rhode Island and Baltimore, and Annapolis, Maryland. And Maine. The islands. Everywhere. I traveled by foot, by bicycle, by bus, by car, by train, plane, and even boat. I had formed relationships and made so many important memories in this part of America that just driving across the highway I was overcome by stories and memories.
And I told the Little One who rode shotgun. I saw a sign for Loundenberry Truck Stop in Nichols, New York and said, “Christine Barto, the Strawberry Queen, worked there!” And I told the Little One my history with this place, with the Barto family and their blueberry farm in Nichols, and Christine, who married my best friend in college, but who was my friend first and who took me in when I wandered across New York on my way to summer camp.
At one point the little one’s mother said snidely that I needed a microphone because I sounded like a tour guide.
I knew what I sounded like. But I longed for the Little One to know about so much of it. I sometimes feel like the inner life of me is like Craig’s hidden seas. A whole world lives inside me or is trapped inside the thousands of unread pages of my journals.
Maybe I wanted to give it all to them so badly I pushed too hard. I know the rejection I felt by their disinterest in my inner kingdom and my life before in Maine left me sad and frustrated.
That first night in the dark at Dogfishhead they searched for their sea glass and I went in search of the spirit that fueled my memories.
As I stand here and pray I wonder if this is one reason why Jesus wants us to pray this request: “Your kingdom come.” So that we will let go our lofty grips on our own kingdoms. So we will let the kingdoms of our memories go, and all the false hope and expectation tied up in their unfulfilled ambitions.
“Your kingdom come.”
In the book of Daniel we are given a glimpse of this kingdom we pray to come. Or at least the borderlands of this kingdom. Daniel is desperate and he kneels to pray. He prays for 21 days. Then an angel appears. It is amazing enough to learn that God sends an angel to Daniel to give him a message. What is even more incredible is this message reveals it was actually dispatched the moment Daniel first made his request. This angel had been traveling in the invisible kingdom for 21 days of Daniel’s time. What is incredible is this story is a hint of what is on the other side of the surface of this world. The angel is like one of Craig’s splendid sea creatures drawn from the canyons of the kingdom of the sea. The angel is like the sea glass dropped in shards of trash from the world of land to the depths of the sea and brought back to shore in the pulse of gravity for the Little One and her mother to find and make into jewelry.
Your Kingdom Come.
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
I am standing above dark waters wondering how it came to this. I had had no idea how much confidence and trust she had placed in me by accepting to come here with us. I have always underestimated her kindness and her need because she hides them well for her own fears of rejection and hurt.
When the trauma came and I unleashed my tongue, she crumbled and cried and it wrecked me.
She had been accusing me of being domineering and a bully and desperate to control. She kept saying, You just have to be the Alpha! And even as I vehemently denied it and exclaimed my humility I attacked her confidence until she wept.
I broke her will to defend herself against me. I broke her will to fight my words. I broke her. I overpowered her by the anguish of my own devil’s will to not allow her to wound me first.
I was like a clinical idiot. When finally she stood on the pavement weeping before me I was sincerely shocked. My understanding caught up with my hypocrisy. I had growled and barked and bit until she submitted and wept. I got what I wanted that I didn’t want.
I looked at her, horrified by what I had achieved. That is the power of hypocrisy, that we fool only ourselves.
Standing on the wharf alone more than I had been in years I recognized what I had been seeing in The Prayer for several weeks. It was the first lesson I got from The Prayer and maybe the most important lesson. If this prayer is about any one thing it is this: Align your will not to your own desires but to the desire of heaven. Period. The end.
“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
Heaven’s will is not some future decision I can make. Heaven’s will already exists. It is not just an invisible kingdom where “Our Father” dwells, it isn’t like Ireland. There is a pervasive desire and character that fills this kingdom like air. It is the will as it exists everlasting and blowing in heaven. Our request is to ask this wind to break over our lives and that we not resist it.
Heaven’s will is a messenger fighting for 21 days to deliver his kindness.
To pray this prayer is to request to be granted access to breath this air. This prayer invite’s heaven’s breath to come to earth and be my breath.
There are not many moments in my life I have desperately desired a rewind button. This moment was one filled with this regret. I had seriously wounded the heart and confidence of this woman because I was heartlessly interested only in fulfilling my own desire, my own will. I just wanted to have my way. I just wanted not to be hurt again.
Standing now on the wharf I feel a moment of panic. I sense that my crime will be as deadly and memorable as was the shotgun blast on this island so many years earlier. I shot the girls with the fiery darts of my selfish will and I mortally wounded them both.
I observed Captain Craig one day on the boat. He stood near the helm and tied a knot in a line to form a splice where he had removed tangled buoys from another fisherman. As he fiddled with the wet line a swell came under us and quickly shifted the boat high and low side to side. Craig’s large body slowly tilted toward the main cabin wall and he fell lightly against it then lightly came back to his upright position as the boat returned to level.
His movement was the movement of a dancer. His body bent to accommodate the will of a rolling sea like dancer’s bodies accommodate gravity. I stood and thought, I bet Craig is not even aware how he is when he is on the sea. Some people walk on a boat in heavy seas and they grow ill fighting the boat’s movements. But Craig’s body doesn’t fight. Craig’s body obeys and the consequence is uninterrupted balance.
I stood there thinking all of this and almost crying about the fact that if only I would have let the wave come under me and my emotions, if only I would have swayed with heaven’s will and allowed it to be here on earth as it is in heaven, that she wouldn’t be crying and I would not be standing here wondering if our life is over as we have known it.
Who is in heaven
Hallowed be your name
You kingdom come
Your will be done, on earth as is it is in heaven
“Give us today our daily bread.”
OUR DAILY BREAD
“Give us today our daily bread.”
My heart went silent. Here I stood in the darkness and confusion of my wrongs. How could I dare ask for my needs to be met? How could I dare to request something for myself?
I knew something was off when we went grocery shopping for the island. I like to cook. When given the chance I have a knack for making meals and creating memorable atmospheres for feasts. It is the desperation in me looking for family. I felt that if we would treat our meals together as little feasts we might come to grow closer together. But the grocery list was not one but three. We got to the store, the Little One and I, and I was surprised to discover the list she had for the two of them had nothing in common.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is how they live in their own house. No shared meals. They eat from two totally different diets.
Give us this day our daily bread.
That was the first frustration and by grace I put it away and embraced the situation and accepted it kindly. We each shopped for ourselves.
Our first night at the cottage I suggested we go in town and eat as a treat. They agreed and we went to one of the ordinary fish house bars. The smell was amazing. Garlic and sea. The little one and I ordered but her mother declined. She said she would order something to take back with her. Even in a restaurant we could not share a meal.
Give us this day our daily bread.
The little one and her mother are proud of their heritage, even if it is mostly invented. The mother’s father is of Greek descent, his parents—or maybe just one pair of grandparents—having immigrated to America, first to Boston then moving later to Ohio. The little one’s biological father claims to be Italian because of his family name. For the little one there is no Italian influence in her life.
Still they embrace the claim of their heritage. The mother especially talks of the importance of her heritage and the life of meals. Her father owned a restaurant for fifty years.
For all the talk of heritage and family and sharing, the sharing of daily bread is ignored. This fact is not lost on me as I stand here. Our inability to do the thing we admire is the court’s evidence. Our lives witness against us.
I live in a culture that does not fellowship. We live in shared breathing and sleeping places. We think we are close because our bodies pass one another on the way to a shared bathroom or refrigerator. But we don’t eat together. Sometimes we even talk together. But there is something about sharing a meal. Sitting together and passing food. Chewing in silence. Laughing at a joke.
If we can’t share a meal together I figure maybe it is a sign something is seriously broken or wounded or scared.
Maybe I was afraid to ask God for bread for what it would require of me—communion.
Give us this day our daily bread. Father. Give us something to eat for we are starving.
The Prayer was taking shape in the revelations of my need and desire. Feed me father, for I am famished.
I began to cry. I stopped the tears before they fell. I sucked them back down in deep breaths, still fighting the need in me reaching out to a father and the knowledge of all the security my anger and outbursts had robbed the two girls of receiving this.
The tears coming again. For them. For what I robbed from them. For myself.
Why is it so difficult to ask you to feed me? Maybe because I know how much food I have denied others.
“Forgive us our sins.”
I find myself already moving on to the next part of the prayer, asking forgiveness for what I had robbed the girls of. What my anger and will has robbed from us. Many over the years.
But a little voice in me said, no, it isn’t time to move on yet. The order of the prayer is important.
It was a tender voice in my head telling me there is a reason why our heavenly Father wants us to request our needs, our most important needs, which are for food and communion, for security, for life, even before we begin the work of confession.
I thought, what would I want from the Little One if she had wronged me in some way? If she was starved I would be longing to feed her. Forgiveness is already there because I love her so much.
“Give us our daily bread.” It is more than a request. It is further evidence of the tenderness of the one who created us.
I give in and do the odd thing and raise my hands and show my empty palms to the night sky and hold them like pale deserts, like empty wounds, the unspeakable name of me stamped in prints. Feed me Father for I am starved.
It is easy to recall what Jesus said, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
I have been reading a Psalm every day. It just so happened that as I cycled back to Psalm 1 it fell on the first day of the month. It is approaching midnight now and it is June 22. I open the Psalm on my phone.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
I nearly collapse to my knees because the words speak to a hidden part of me.
As I walked to the wharf in my numb dissolution the old questions were creeping back in: Are you sure there is a God “out there”? How do you know there is a God? Wouldn’t God intervene and help prevent this if He was real? How is it that you seem to be doing all the right things and for all the right reasons and yet this happens? How can you trust this God stuff is true?
The questions point me to think of the islands and the secret kingdom of the sea. I think of how we had visited an old lighthouse earlier in the day, the girls and I, and how the mother said, “These rocks are beyond description. It looks like you can see how the earth was formed.” She stood and gazed at the majestic scene of mammoth granite tilting into a crashing sea. She said how it was helping her. She was deeply affected by the place. I had a sense she was opening up. Letting go of fear. It was like the sea and the granite were testifying of God. The tired cliché of the light house even took on fresh meaning as we all three hiked around in the dimming light of the early night sky and the yellow circling glow of the light in the tower grew and shined for us.
My mind went back to the moment, but with these voices I saw something different than the majesty. I saw only cold history. Thousands and millions of years of it. The voices said, “Where is he, this God? Why has it taken him so long to come back to what he created if he is real and really created this?” All the questions no one ever has been able to answer were creeping back in me.
King David wrote this: “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them.” “To you they cried and were rescued.”
“But I am a worm and not a man.” David was really hurting. “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.”
But even in his anguish he does not wonder if God made the rocks. Or if God controls the throbbing heart of the sea.
David’s hurt does not lead him to doubt, but to this. He says, “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; You made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you I was cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for my trouble is near, and there is none to help.”
The words, though pained and brutal, are a feast for me. I feast on them. My starving faith consumes them like meat. “My daily bread.”
David says, “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!”
“May your hearts live forever!”
“Forgive us our trespasses.”
My world no longer believes in “sins.” Nobody believes there is objective right and wrong.
As we argued she said, “You and your values! Value this, character that! The world is not made up of rigid good and evil, black and white, right and wrong. You are killing yourself trying to control everything.”
She was right about one thing. I was destroying myself.
When we put so many statements like that in a paragraph it is almost impossible to argue against because some of it will be true. I am killing myself trying to control everything. But there are rights and wrongs.
The problem is I call the wrong things right and the right things wrong.
There are right and wrong. Sin is what is wrong.
A sin is a trespass. It is something I do that harms someone else. I cross a boundary. I break a trust. I trespass some place or something that is forbidden because of the harm it does.
I trespassed tonight. I crossed boundaries and said things I can never take back.
Sometimes a trespass is even difficult to detect because the damage is so subtle.
Before all this happened, long before I even knew them or they me, I lived on this island and we would go night swimming.
One night a bunch of us went skinny-dipping. We had been listening to music and dancing in a cabin and someone said, let’s go skinny-dipping! So we did. Kind of. A crowd of us snuck down to a nearby resort and made our way out the resort’s long pier to a deep-water float. As we all snuck across the well-lit pier and made our way to the dim float all but two of us had the courage to go through with it. A girl I was keen on, Lee, a model and spiritual seeker, and I peeled off most of our clothes, remaining in our underwear, and leaped into the cold black sea.
That night is burned in my mind as the kindest of trespasses, but a trespass no less. We trespassed someone’s private property, for one. But worse was we trespassed people’s confidences. Because even as Lee and I flirted we were both in the process of breaking off relationships with other people.
I say it was the kindest of trespasses because that night is in my memory as something good in my past even though it was wrong.
Forgive us our trespasses. Forgive us for what we do to break the trust of others. Forgive us for Trespassing you, Father.
As we were coming back to the island I told the Little One about a favorite swimming spot we had when I was young. It was in a freshwater lake by the yacht club. You can see the ocean from the lake. Most people think the lake is part of the bay it is so close. Just the width of the road. But it is actually a freshwater lake with granite cliffs and tall pine trees. I told her it was great to swim in because it was always much warmer than the Maine sea. I told her about a rope swing that was always there. I told her I didn’t know if we could go back to the cliffs though because it is private property.
When I was young we would hike back from the road along the rocks then climb to a trail along the short cliffs in the trees. No one ever told us not to go there but we were always cautioned not to take a short cut through the house lawn at the edge of the road. We climbed down along the rocks at the road then climbed back up.
It was trespassing but hardly felt like a crime.
I went to inspect the path and ask around and discovered someone had built a tall wood fence down across the rocks at the edge of the road. Someone said, it is enforced private property now.
The Little One was sad.
Trespasses are rarely crimes. They are rarely right or wrong in a legal sense.
On the island it is necessary for people to put up signs requesting, “no trespassing.” Or usually it is a kinder phrasing, “Please respect our privacy.” It is necessary just because of the amount of visitors who come here to experience this part of the world.
In Yellowstone National Park people are warned by signs not to get to close to the wild life. Especially the bears. To trespass that request is to risk death. But people do because they desire to have an encounter with what is usually only seen on tv. Here on the island visitors are often overcome with the scenery and forget it is not a nature preserve or zoo but someone’s home. And they park their cars and roam across lawns and climb down to the sea.
I made many friends when I was younger because I always asked for permission to explore places instead of just trespassing. One house on property with a majestic granite rock face that produced incredible breaking waves was always being trespassed by tourists. But I asked the owner for permission to climb the rocks and not only did they say yes, I became good friends with the owner and she and I would sit and have hot tea after I risked the perilous wet and cold to experience the majestic sea in winter storms.
Maybe tonight’s harsh words would not have been so damaging if I had earned the permission of her trust to speak openly with her about my perception. To venture onto her rocks. I trespassed her trust. I told her how horrible she made me feel. I really meant to explain how horrible I feel and how I know I take her words personally. But without trust you can never have an argument not leading to casualties. Trust creates a shared language where we try to hear what other people mean no matter how they say it. Fear causes us to use only our own terms and definitions to protect ourselves from others.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Forgive us for we hurt one another. Forgive me.
I could no longer stand. I sat on the wharf and asked for forgiveness. What else was there to do? I was powerless. I had no control over the outcome of my trespass tonight. Both girls were deeply injured by my words. Fear took place of trust, the fear that if words were so harsh, what kind of man dwelt behind them. The hurt is the loss of relationship. I died to them because I ceased to be the man they believed me to be.
Forgive us our trespasses.
She said, “I will never be able to look at you the same again.” She had believed I supported her and loved her but my behavior and words just proved the opposite.
Who is in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
“And forgive those who trespass against us.”
One of the most difficult things for me is forgiveness. I am not even aware of how hurts and perceived hurts linger in me.
Because I was angry (and because I saw myself inwardly and feared it was inevitable I would do permanent damage if I didn’t leave or shut my mouth) I said I was going to go for the night and give them space. At this she pointed out that this is what I always do, I quit. I run away.
She said, “But I don’t quit. I stick!” I exploded, a thousand years of hurt came out of me that I didn’t even know was there. “But you divorced me!” I said. “You left me!”
The words that undid everything. Nothing was rational any longer. We were heavy in battle and like any war zone the casualty list would extend further than just soldiers. Buildings would be destroyed. Innocents would die.
I saw it happening and knew I could stop it just by choosing to stop my mouth, but the hurt in me was a venom pouring out. And like a mythical warewolfe in the tv shows I used to watch late at night as a child I got what I desired even it if was exactly what I didn’t want. I went for the kill. The transformation had taken place and I was in killing mode.
She lost her strength. The final wound had been struck and she lay mortally wounded before me.
Her face crumpled and she cried. She gasped air. It takes a lot to bring her to tears. She was desperate. I had crushed her.
I wounded her before she could wound me further, even if she had not known how I felt.
I see now how my unwillingness to forgive her from years before led me to hurt her tonight.
Forgiveness heals. For all my talk of wanting to see her find healing, I totally missed the obvious, that the biggest part of her healing would be my forgiveness. I had failed to forgive her from years before.
Now I left hoping she will give me what I had not given her—forgiveness.
We had a battle I started earlier in the week and she chose to accept my apology and overlook it for the sake of her own peace.
I don’t know what was going on inside her at that point but I knew I felt traumatized.
I needed to talk to someone so I talked to my friend Bob. He has managed to live an exemplary life where he seems to have peace and joy.
How? I asked him.
He didn’t have an answer. But I could see the answer in the facts of his life. He had just completed building his son’s house with him in the mountains of New Hampshire. He has a tight bond with his son. His wife is his work partner with running their summer restaurant in Maine. They work. I know they must trespass one another. But there is no bitterness or sarcasm between them. I can safely assume they know how to forgive one another.
I sit on the dock and don’t even know where to begin to forgive. How far back do I go? To my birth? To the first abandonment?
As we fought outside the cottage and I brought her to pain and tears I suddenly had this flash of rapid memories of so many battles I have had with women. It was like lightning flashing in my mind and even though the memories flowed in my mind I could see there were basically two types of relationships I have had—ones where I was left or ones where I left.
One memory grew up in me of a girl I liked when I was in elementary school. I pursued her and she did not respond. I bought her an oversize valentine card and took it to her apartment. She would not answer the door so I left it at the door. Her friend was there at the house with her. Her friend came to the door and yelled for me across the parking lot. The friend told me the girl did not like me and to leave her alone and the friend tore the card in half in its big envelope. It was devastating to be so unloved and unliked. Looking back I see that I was a cute kid. I had a lot going for me and lots of people liked me. But I couldn’t see it. I felt ugly and unpopular and when this happened it confirmed for me how I viewed myself. No matter the praises that came my way I never lost sight of what I was convinced was the real me, the pathetic and desperate kid rejected by the pretty girl in the most cruel way.
As I stood there with her crying I knew the little one was being hurt as well. I knew I was losing them. It was almost like I was doing it on purpose. Like I was hurting them and getting them to reject me before they surprised me by rejection.
I don’t know why else I would have that memory at that time.
Where do I begin to forgive so I can quit hurting the one’s I want to love?
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
“And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from the evil one.”
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Craig was following his new plotter to a string of traps he had just outside the inner harbor. Long before he even checked the plotter he knew the trap was somewhere awfully close to a Navy ship that had parked in the outer harbor for a boat festival.
And there it was. We spotted his yellow and orange buoy bobbing almost against a barge float resting beside the heavily guarded ship. His sternman commented on the rocket launchers and cannons on deck we could see at this distance and wondered if there were rifles aimed at us as we approached in this age of terror and conspiracy.
As we slowly crossed the distance toward the ship we saw we would be intercepted by a Navy security detail in a hard bottomed rubber raft.
Craig stopped his boat and waved the Navy boat to us. A man dressed in khaki pants with a side arm was at the helm. A man with a side arm stood in the bow. A third man seated between them in the center of the boat was barely visible beneath his body armor and clutching a rifle.
They came toward us and apologized, saying we couldn’t come any closer. “We can’t let you come any closer,” said the man at the helm.
High up on the decks above the grey towering, windowless wall, sailors appeared, some with rifles.
Craig explained his situation and asked if they could radio a higher-up and ask if either Craig could haul the string or at least save his buoy (each string has two buoys and he knew that even though he could probably save the string with the other buoy, he would certainly lose this buoy if he didn’t get it directly).
The seamen accepted the request and told Craig not to move form our spot and that he would forward the request and return with instructions for how they would escort us if we were permitted access.
It took a few minutes then the navy boat returned and we were led to the buoy under the heavily armed and watchful crew of the escort boat and the men watching us work from the high decks.
“Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from the evil one.”
Guns and war are always how I imagine conflict. For me conflict has always felt like a matter of life and death.
“lead us not into temptation.”
I pray, “Lead us not to places where we will be tempted to fight. Lead me not to more of this.”
I ask God to deliver me from the evil one who seeks to destroy me.
“Deliver us from the evil one.”
I sat on the wharf with the harm already done. All I could do is pray for what was to come. I could only pray for deliverance from the evil I cannot control.
It is a difficult thing to wake after a disaster and keep going. Most of my life my solution to the pain of consequences and bad circumstances has been to run away. I travel and clear my mind by movement. But not now.
The next morning I would sit across from her at an old wooden table in a seaside café bathed in morning light and ask for permission to remain in their orbit even if they were angry with me.
My habit was to try and outrun the evil, the hurt, but after so many years I have learned I cannot outpace it. It is always there where I arrive because it resides inside me. We never have temptation without first having desire.
“Lead us not into places where we will desire what will hurt us. Deliver us from what we have no control over—our past hurts that screw up our desires and lead us to battling and worry.”
I asked her across the table if I could remain in her life even if she was angry and she said, “Yes, I want you to stay.”
They have rarely seen me cry. At the moment she said she wanted me to stay tears climbed into my face and I excused myself to the bathroom.
I barely reached the door before I sobbed tears of pain and hope.
At this point it is all I can do—pray for delivery.
When I was young I explored the dark north woods by bicycle. Some days I would grab a map and pick out a place to travel to. Then I would head into the woods to try and reach the destination without taking charted roads.
This is how I felt back then. I pray, “Lead me through these darks woods. Protect me from evil. Allow me to arrive at my destination.” I pray, “Our Father who is in heaven…”