Wesley Hill – The Lord's Prayer – Evaluate
Another picture of What Our
Prayer life could look like this
A review of
The Lord's Prayer –
A guide to praying to our father
Hardcover: Lexham Press, 2019.
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)
Reviewed by Trent Crofts
I woke up from a nap today and felt pretty safe and content – just to find a fantastic furry creature lurking over my forehead. His spiky whiskers tickled my face when his lemon-yellow eyes matched mine. His throat opened wide and showed sharp teeth and a blood red tongue. The creature uttered an evil "meow". Fortunately, it was only my cat Mikah who looks like an endearing, domesticated loaf of bread from right to top. But when viewed from above, all of their wild lioness traits are emphasized.
All great writers have the ability to turn everyday elements of life upside down. To show the ordinary as extraordinary, to make the natural appear unnatural and to transform the familiar into the unsettling. This ability is all the more important in theological writing, since taking things like a walk in the forest, freshly baked bread and even our pets is a given, but taking God for granted is another. Not experiencing every day as a gift from God not only denies him glory, but also undermines our joy in all the little things in life. And so it was a pleasure for me to find something as familiar as the Lord's Prayer, which was enchanted by the meditations Wesley Hill wrote in the Lord's Prayer – A Guide to Praying to Our Father.
I am using the term meditations graciously because the strength of Hill's book of approximately 100 pages is not in its scope. You could read the book in a few hours – but only at your own loss. Instead, the Lord's Prayer offers its readers the opportunity to slow down and think, chew, rather than eat. Hill takes something as red as "Our Father" and puts it in a new frame, namely the life of Christ. Hill states in the introduction: “Above all, I would like to show that the Lord's Prayer is primarily about Jesus himself. Every petition is not just his instruction to followers how to pray. Basically, each petition is a window into Jesus' own prayer life – his trust in and his manifestation of the one he called Father ”(4).
The structure and flow of the book are straightforward. Hill sets out to demonstrate his reasoning by going through every line of prayer, clarifying the historical or theological questions along the way, and then substantiating every aspect of the petition in the life of Christ. So we see that calling God our father means entering a new reality, the family relationship that the father and son enjoy in love for the Holy Spirit. This relationship takes flesh in Jesus and is made possible for us through our union with him. In another section, Hill shows how asking for “your kingdom come” means looking for the redemptive and healing properties of God's rule shown in the service of Jesus to heal the sick and cast out demons. In addition, Jesus exemplifies what it means to ask whether “your will is done” by surrendering to God's will and accomplishing God's redemptive work through his own suffering – suffering that is representative of Christian life in this world . "Give us our daily bread today" underlines our nature as needy beings and at the same time reminds us of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, our paradigm for a life carried by God. Ultimately, his death becomes our livelihood, our daily bread. Even if we pray that God "saves us from the time of trial," we can comfort ourselves when we know that Jesus, who has experienced the horrors of Gethsemane and Calvary, has already passed the last trial on our behalf. And when we pray "and free ourselves from evil", we can remember that despite the current circumstances and experiences, Jesus overcame evil through his death and resurrection and promises us a share in his victory.
Hill thus presents the Lord's Prayer as a portrait of the gospel, which is based on the image of Jesus' own life. In this way, he follows a pattern of representation that is referred to throughout the Christian tradition as figuration and in which one image or one thing refers to another. For example, this is the logic of baptism that leads us into the history of Christ, a visible sign that his death becomes our death and his life becomes our life. Or look at the church calendar, in which time itself represents the life of Christ. As I write this, Lent is penitent and is shaping our lives according to Christ's trials in the desert in preparation for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Or consider the teaching of St. Augustine on the interpretation of Scripture through the lens of the head and body, that is, Christ and the Church. When we read something like Psalm 22, we can see clearly how Jesus cries out to God in great need, and yet, because of the nature of the head and body, we can also read and hear Psalm 22 as we cry out to the Lord. One can even think of Ignatian prayer, which includes imaginative exercises not only to be observers of a gospel story, but even to introduce oneself as participants. This strong foundation of tradition forms the foundation for the prayer chapel contained in the Lord's Prayer. With Hill as our guide, an often familiar list of requests is transformed into the gospel itself.
And while it may be greedy to ask a little book to deliver more than an electrifying reading of a 2000 year old prayer, Hill is a generous author and does just that. The Spirit of the Lord's Prayer may be the life of Christ, but the flesh of it Prayer is still a template for inquiries and recognitions addressed to Our Father. Hill never loses sight of this dynamic and actually forms a kind of frame or bookend by basing the petitions in a father-son relationship. From Chapter 1, Hill emphasizes how God's address as a father must always be connected to the love that is shared between him and his son. And at the end of the book that I found most striking, the author describes his own use of Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son as a means of introducing himself to a desperate son who needs the kindness of his father. In this way, Hill provides another picture of what our prayer life could look like.
My priest recently called Sunday when Americans "jump forward" Snoozy Sunday. For me a few weeks ago, this was a very apt description. I confess that I even dozed off in certain parts of the liturgy. But after reading the Lord's Prayer earlier in the week, I was immediately energetic as we approached Our Father. The life of Jesus began to flash before me, giving me hope that what I prayed for would be true – because it is already true in Christ. Something so familiar had been turned into something so fantastic.
Barista by day, Magic: The Gathering enthusiast by night, Trent Crofts lives just outside of Pittsburgh with his wife Marisa and their three cats May, June and Mikah. His favorite author is G.K. Chesterton and he love everything related to belief, theology, cooking, beer and gaming.