“We” in Prayer

Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. II: The Ante-Nicene Literature After Irenaeus (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1990) 353.

Cyprian was an African bishop, and his De dominica oratione dates to 251-252 C.E. He states the following about the Lord’s prayer:

Before all things, the teacher of peace and the master of unity would not have prayer to be made single and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not ‘My Father, which art in heaven,’ nor ‘Give me this day my daily bread;’ nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one (8 ANF 5).

This reminds me of something I heard in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting this week. A woman was asking about a line in the AA Promises, “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” She inquired how she could do this, when she had done so many stupid things in her life. A man then quoted a few lines after that: “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others” (see The AA Promises). In AA, even the stupidest things we have done can benefit others.

The man then quoted the first step of AA: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable” (see 12 Steps to Serenity). He highlighted the word “we.” “In AA, we’re not alone, for we’re all in this together,” he said.

There are times when I am turned off by AA communitarianism, the same way that evangelical communitarianism has always repulsed me. Some like to appeal to the “we” part of the 12 Steps to push others to become more social. “You need to form relationships, and get phone numbers, and give your phone number, and attend AA functions” blah blah blah. “If you don’t, then you will most certainly relapse!” As usual, such an approach disregards those who have difficulty forming relationships.

But there are other ways of defining communitarianism that appeal to me more. When I am at an AA meeting, I may not know how to effectively banter with the person next to me. I may not be in a deep relationship with those around me. But they are offering me their experience, strength, and hope when they tell the group their stories. And I am doing the same when I choose to share my experience, strength, and hope. And, when I don’t share, I can always shake someone’s hand and thank him for coming. So there is a “we” in my sobriety, even though I may not always have deep relationships with people in the group. In some way, shape, or form, we all have the same problem, and we’re all looking to a higher power to help us solve it. We’re in this together.

I disagree with Cyprian if he is suggesting that the Lord’s prayer should only be said in church, not in private, for Jesus himself emphasizes it as part of the Christian’s one-on-one relationship with God: “But whenever 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” (Matthew 6:6). As Henry Blackaby likes to say, I have a relationship with God that is intimate and personal. But, when I take time each day to open my heart to God, I should remember others who are struggling on the same path, or who need God like I do. “We” and “me” should both be parts of my intimate relationship with God.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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