Happy New Year, Mike, and happy New Year to all our readers. I am so excited about taking on the Lord’s Prayer. It is perhaps the most Jewish piece of liturgy in the entire Bible. But, as you said, it is wise for use to deal with more general issues first.
I agree that Jesus, along with the vast majority of his co-religionists, believed that God desires prayer and is ever-ready to listen if not act. I pray daily, but I have to admit that I am not so sure about the assumptions behind the act of prayer.
I speak to God as if God were other, as if God were, as you say, “both distant and very near”. For me God is the Source and Substance of all reality; God embraces and transcends the material world just as a word embraces and transcends the letters that comprise it. There is a level of meaning in the whole that the parts as parts lack.
For example, the letters “O,” “E,” “L,” and “V” in and of themselves are meaningless, but the word “Love” is profoundly meaningful. When we look at the universe as a collection of discrete parts we cannot find meaning in them, but when we see them as a wild yet integrated whole we do find meaning.
Of course there is no word without the letters, so I am not discounting them. Indeed I see them as manifestations of God. So when I pray it is God speaking to God in order to shift perspective from the part to the whole.
This leads me to explore your position carefully. Does God desire prayer? Does God want to listen to us?
Given my definition of God as Reality, I have no doubt as to God’s existence. But does God have desires? Does God desire to listen to my prayers? Certainly to the extent that I am God and I have desires we can say that God has desires. But this is on the microcosmic level. What about the God as the whole and not simply the part? Does God as the Source (and not just the Substance) of Reality have desires?
I would say “yes” only in this sense: God does not have free will. God has no choice but to be God, and cannot be other than God. Being God means that God manifests infinite possibility in such a way that some of that possibility becomes actualized and some of that actualized possibility discovers the capacity to realize that all is God. Since all of this is in the very nature of reality as God, and taking prayer to be a means for realizing the God-in-all-as-all nature of Nature, I would say that God desires prayer the way an acorn “desires” to become an oak tree: God desires to manifest parts capable of realizing the perspective of the whole.
Could God desire otherwise? No more than an acorn could desire to be a fig tree.
Does God listen to my prayer? In my daily prayer walks I talk with God. Not simply to God or at God, but with God. I hear God’s response. But I take this to be a lower spiritual experience filtered through my egoic consciousness. The way we humans meet is face to face, so the way God and I meet is Face to face. But this is a limitation of my ego not an accurate picture of the Divine-human relationship.
There are moments in my walking when the “distance” between God and myself vanishes. God is no longer “Other” but All. I sense God in me, as me. I feel God in and as all things around me. There is no talking at this point. God isn’t listening to me, but rather I am listening—or more accurately sensing since all my senses seem to be engaged in this experience— to the universe and sensing not a voice but a presence felt as love. These are brief moments of ecstasy that often leave me twirling, dancing, hugging trees, laughing, singing, and engaged in other bizarre and thankfully unobserved behavior.
In this way I absolutely agree with you that “prayer helps form us, freeing us from the illusion of false needs and teaching us to see clearly what we really need.” And what we really need is to realize God in all as all, and to allow that realization to transform us into vehicles for compassion and justice in the world.
I suspect you are saying something similar the notion of “rule” troubles me. When you say “we long for God's rule to become fully effective in us and the broader life of the world” I cannot help but think of those who claim to know what God’s rule is and who seek to impose it upon others. This Taliban-like quality exists in all three Abrahamic religions, and is often the greatest source of evil perpetrated in their names.
In any case I look forward to unpacking the Lord’s Prayer line by line, and happily await your getting us into this.