Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Note to Our Readers

Hi. This is Rami. Mike and I are taking a short break from this blog. Mike isn't feeling well and is going to take some time off to get himself back on his feet. At least that's what he's telling me. I suspect he's going to bury himself in the library and bone up on his Christology so he can better refute my brilliant arguments on the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount.

I'm sure he would appreciate your prayers for his quick recovery. If you feel called to send donations please put them in my name. I'm not ill, but I need the money more than Mike does. If enough money comes in I intend to vacation in the Bahamas. I'll email him your names and tell him you sent something from there.

Please don't abandon us. We will continue in a week or two. Check back. Thanks.

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/28 Post

This certainly helps with an understanding of how the idea of forgiveness through Jesus as Christ evolved, Mike. From the Jewish perspective the issue is still problematic, though over the centuries many Jews have adopted somewhat similar practices such as praying at the burial sites of great rabbis and sages in hopes of invoking their help in convincing God to do whatever it is they wish to have done.

My own position is that God neither rewards nor punishes, and that forgiveness only makes sense in the human sphere. For me God is Reality, all that was, is, and ever will be, and that which transcends this as well. My experience of God is not one of forgiveness but of infinite compassion. God, and I am speaking metaphorically here, simply mirrors back to me the complete fabric of my life and how my actions impact others, and does so in such a way as I cannot avoid feeling the suffering I cause. It is this realization that motivates me to make amends and ask for forgiveness from those I have hurt or harmed.

When I say God is love, the love I imagine isn't sweet but searing. This love burns away all the nonsense and lies that poison my life and keep me from fully experiencing the depths of suffering and joy that life contains. When I die I don't expect God to forgive me or condemn me. I expect God to embrace me the way an ocean embraces the river that flows into it, or the wave that arises from it. I am not concerned with heaven and hell except as they play out here on earth. I am passionate about the "kingdom of God" among us and between us and with in, but I have no interest in such a kingdom above or a horror show below. In this I am quintessentially Jewish.

I suspect it is the Jewish focus on this world that makes the validation of Jesus as Christ through the resurrection irrelevant. It doesn't matter than Jesus returned to his Father in heaven. What matters is that we are still making a mess of things here on earth. To say with Jesus that his kingdom is not of this world is, from a Jewish perspective, to say that his teaching is irrelevant to the world. Neither you nor I believe that. I think the teaching of Jesus, which I see as profoundly Jewish drawing from and expanding both the prophetic and rabbinic traditions (as opposed to the teaching about Jesus which form the basis of Christianity) are as vital today as ever--perhaps more so. The power of the Sermon on the Mount is that it is a deeply spiritual and transformative way of living here and now. Nothing can diminish nor add to that--not the resurrection nor the denial of the resurrection. It is Jesus' teaching that matters, and I don't want to limit the validity of that teaching to a supernatural understanding of the teacher.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mike: Response to Rami's 1/25 Post

See if I ever again leave you "free to focus on other matters!" That being said, you raise a good question with regard to the Christian teaching of forgiveness through Jesus. I do not pretend to be a scholar on the subject (either the particular example you raise, or the larger matter of Christology). Still, I harbor strong impressions, which I hope are based primarily in reflection on biblical texts, Christian history and experience.

Christians view Jesus through the lens of the resurrection. All his words and actions take on additional meaning for us as a result. To the best of my knowledge, all early Christians interpreted the resurrection as God's validation of the life and teachings of Jesus. Almost immediately, they concluded Jesus must be the Christ. Some tended to view him as a man, whom God elevated to the status. Others soon began to see Jesus as the incarnation of the Word (to borrow John's language). We see a bit of both tendencies in Paul's letters. Ultimately, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity evolved from such considerations. With regard to your question, Christians felt it natural to pray in the name of such a Jesus or to ask forgiveness in his name.

The practice also derived from early Christian reflection on other sayings of Jesus. For example, Jesus told his disciples that whatsoever they asked in his name would be granted, that no one came to the Father but through him, and the like. You and I live in a time when sets of scholars debate which sayings should be regarded as authentic. The first followers seem to have accepted and worked with whatever sayings were available. That being the case, they soon began to pray in his name and seek forgiveness through him.

Experience played a role as well, I think. The first generation of Christians clearly believed Holy Spirit was active in and among them to comfort, bring to memory the teachings of Jesus, guide them in ministry, and instruct them. My personal hunch is that if we could interview early Christian leaders, they would tell us they believed Holy Spirit led them to pray in the name of Jesus and seek forgiveness through him.

All of the above begs the question of Jesus' intentions. How one deals with the matter seems largely determined by whether one factors genuine resurrection into the equation. By that, I mean we're either dealing with a life and its attendant perceptions/intentions which ended with death, or with someone who lived bound within the limitations of genuine incarnation then lived again with expanded perceptions/intentions via resurrection. The early Christians went with the second option.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/23 Post

Your reading of this passage is very close to my own, and since you blend both the communal Jubilee Year with the personal aspect of forgiveness, I am free to focus on other matters.

First let me offer some comfort to those who may be troubled about the different versions of this teaching in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew Jesus speaks of “debts” while in Luke he speaks of “sin.” Both may be correct. The Gospels are written in Greek but Jesus most likely preached in Aramaic, the vernacular of his listeners. In Aramaic the word “choba” means both debt and sin, and it is this word Jesus spoke and which Matthew and Luke both translated rightly even as they translated differently.

Second and more importantly, I am struck (and if I were a Christian troubled) by Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Jesus says nothing about praying in his name or believing in him as the Son of God as a condition for forgiveness. Rather it links the forgiving of others to God’s forgiving of us. This is very much in line with Jewish thinking then and now.

In the second century BCE text the Wisdom of Ben Sirach we are instructed, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Ben Sirach 28:2, NRSV). In the Talmud God says, “I forgive your sins against Me, but go to those against whom you have sinned and ask their pardon also” (Rosh HaShanah 17b). In the older text God’s forgiveness requires us to get the forgiveness of others. In the later text God’s forgiveness comes before human pardon and is an impetus for it.

Jesus differs from Sirach and the Talmud by focusing on giving forgiveness to others rather than asking us to forgive us though this too can be found in rabbinic teaching, “All those who are forbearing and forgiving of others and who do not insist on their rights will be forgiven their sins” (Talmud, Yoma 23a). This last text may be the source of Jesus’ teaching in Mark, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

In all these cases, however, it is clear that belief in Jesus has nothing to do with securing God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is ours to bestow, and when we do so God does likewise unto us. This a variation on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have God do unto you.”

I am neither a theologian nor a scholar of Christian history, so I am wondering why and when Christianity shifts from the Jewish teaching of Jesus about forgiveness to the Christian teaching of forgiveness through Jesus? Not that you need more work to do, Mike, but I look forward to hearing your answer and insight into this.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mike: 1/22 Post--Matthew 6:12

Thanks for pointing to the imaginative connection between the prayer and the manna stories. You point is not only true, it enriches our appreciation for the prayer. Now, on to the next phrase.

"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12).

I think it best to view the petition against the backdrop of the jubilee year (see Leviticus 25:8-17). The jubilee year ideal called for the forgiveness of all debts and the restoration of all property to its orignal owners every fifty years. Insofar as I know, the ideal was never put into full practice, but it certainly gripped the imagination of many. Such a practice would have had the practical effect of placing everyone on a equal footing once per generation. In addition, the practice probably would loosen attachment to and dependence upon property, turning followers into stewards rather than owners. Applied on an empire wide basis, it would have involved the Romans leaving the region (though surely disputes would have arisen over the question who originally owned the property!). In short, the petition carried economic and political implications.

That being said, we ought not neglect the personal dimensions of the prayer. Jesus places responsibility to start the process of forgiveness on us. We pray to be forgiven our debts in accordance with how we have forgiven the debts owed us. At this point, I think the petition extends its reach beyond economics and politics to the realm of personal relationships.

For example, Jesus seems to be saying to his first century Jewish listener that he or she must practice preemptive forgiveness, whether of an offending fellow Jew or even a Roman. He calls for breaking the all too common human cycle of revenge and what we might call "compensated forgiveness" in favor of something more radical. Much to our consternation, Jesus never implies such forgiveness on our part guarantees a like response from others. On the other hand, if we take his way we at least drop the terrible burden of holding mortgages (of all kinds)on others.

Does the petition mean we cannot be forgiven by God until we learn to forgive others consistently? I would not put it so. Rather, it seems to me we cannot experience (recognize, absorb, be changed by) and live knowingly in God's kingdom without practicing forgiveness. I suspect learning to practice forgiveness of all kinds is an integral part of growing from infancy to maturity in the kingdom of God.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/16 Post

Let me just tack a few things on to your fine comments, Mike.

In addition to what you said about the economic of the time, a first century Jew listening to Rabbi Jesus could not hear him speak of “daily bread” without immediately thinking of Exodus 16 and the manna given to the Jews during their wandering in the Sinai desert. God provides the Jews with manna each day and instructs them to take no more than a single day’s portion (with an exception made for Friday when they are to take two day’s portion so as not to have to gather manna on the Sabbath).

As is always the case someone has to test the rule. Someone ignores the rules and gathers a double portion hoping to secure enough by taking more than enough. In the morning, however, his left over manna is teeming with worms. The Torah’s message, carried by Jesus in his prayer, is to live with enough.

The Lord’s Prayer calls the Jews back to Sinai. He is challenging them to surrender to God once again, and to trust that God will lead us to where we need to be and sustain as we journey there. He is saying, “The treasures we store up for ourselves cannot sustain us. Tomorrow they will be as rotten as the illicit portion of manna. God provided for us in Sinai and God will provide for us now, but only if we learn to live within the confines of enough.”

There is enough for all if each takes only enough. Most of us, however, take more than enough, or at least desire to do so. We imagine (wrongly) that life is a zero-sum game where my abundance depends on another’s lack, so we pursue more than enough fearful that if we don’t someone else will take our portion as well as their own. It is grasping for more than enough that is at the root of most if not all of the world’s suffering. And it is here that Jesus use of “us” comes in.

First we should remember that Jewish liturgy is intrinsically communal. We almost always speak in the first person plural rather than the first person singular. Second Jesus is again reminding us of Sinai where there was enough for all of us as long as each of us took no more than we needed.

The challenge of course is to trust that this is so. Few of us do. We are always seeking that extra portion of manna expecting that this time it will not rot. As the economy has recently reminded us, there is no security in stored up treasure.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mike: 1/16 Post, Matthew 6:11

"Give us this day our daily bread." (Matthew 6:11)

The petition was and is counter cultural.

In the first century context, it spoke directly to the daily reality faced by the poor. Daily bread, that needed to live another day, did not come easily. Day workers, such as those depicted in the parable of the owner and the workers for hire, lived from day to day. Taking one day at a time was not a maxim but instead harsh reality.

By contrast, upper classes with property, prosperous businesses, government connections and the like lived in a long range world. Holding on to what they had and adding to it preoccupied many of them. They did not have to worry about bread for the day, but they no doubt invested considerable energy in trying to build their holdings and pass them along to their children.

At the risk of oversimplification, the two classes felt different needs. The poor might well have prayed "Give me bread for today." Those better off might well have prayed "Prosper my investments." The first is a prayer of acknowledged dependence, the latter at best invites God to help grow the family business.

Jesus' choice of phrase is congruent with his contention that God loved the poor and that riches make it difficult to choose to depend upon God.

The term "us" is important. It challenges the tendency of poor and rich alike to settle for self-centeredness. Positively, it pushes us to care not only that we and our loved ones (or "folks like us") have enough to eat (and by extension, have enough of the basics of life), but that others do as well. Personal acts of charity and sacrifice ensue. The more we grapple with the matter, we realize social, legal, business and government structures must also be addressed.

Let's not forget the question of "enough." With rare exceptions, humans act out of insecurity, both real and imagined. We find it hard to know and admit when we have enough of anything. The prayer calls us to scale back expectations, to recognize that each day is all we have, and to live accordingly. Obviously, when we do so, there's more to go around. Less obviously, when we do so we begin to free ourselves from slavery to pointless anxiety about the future. We start to become people more nearly able to live in the present moment.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/7 Post

We call what you are talking about teshuvah/return and tikkun/repair. The two operate together: you return to God and repair the world with godliness: doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God and God’s creation (Micah 6:8). Some people are more prone to begin with teshuvah and the life of prayer, study, and contemplation that is the way of return. Others are more comfortable beginning with tikkun, becoming socially active and working for justice for both persons and planet. Wherever one starts, the other is always bound to kick in at some point. My understanding is that when one lives teshuvah and tikkun one lives in Malchut Shamayim, the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ reference to God’s kingdom is, itself, very Jewish. In the Talmud, tractate Berachot 40b (published centuries after Jesus, but containing the teachings of his rabbinic predecessors and colleagues) the rabbis taught that for a prayer to be valid it must mention both the Name of God and the Kingdom of God. In practice this has become the classic opening of almost every Jewish blessing: “Blessed are You, YHVH our God, King of the universe.”

Judaism speaks of two opposing kingdoms, Malchut Zadon, the kingdom of the proud, and Malchut Shamayim, the Kingdom of Heaven. Pride, along with anger, arrogance, greed, and ignorance, is what keeps God’s kingdom from manifesting on earth. The way we will know God’s kingdom has come is that justice and peace will reign around the globe. Because we believe only the Messiah (or messianic consciousness) can bring this global transformation, and because we believe that this will be a this-worldly socio-economic-political-spiritual transformation we believe that the Messiah has yet to come. When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36) we Jews lose interest. This is where the kingdom is needed, not in some heavenly realm.

Judaism is a profoundly this-worldly faith. We have little to say about life after death, and pay scant attention to heaven and hell. We believe that behavior alone determines your fate after death, and that a person whose good deeds outweigh her bad deeds by even a feather’s weight will have a place in heaven. Our hope is articulated in Jeremiah 23:5: “The days are surely coming, says YHVH, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” The “land” refers not only Israel but the whole world.

I understand that for many Christians this Branch is Jesus, and that the Second Coming will accomplish what we Jews expect from the first. Numbers aside, the goal is the same: global peace and justice.

I am struck by Jesus’ prayer that “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What keeps God’s will from operating on earth? Again, I would point to pride, anger, arrogance, greed, and ignorance. If we want to see the Kingdom of God our prayers must be, to borrow from Rabbi Abraham Joshua, “subversive” and thus overthrow Malchut Zadon, the kingdom of pride. Unfortunately most of us are so invested in Malchut Zadon that we rarely if ever pray subversively. On the contrary, our prayers reinforce our own will and pretend that God wills what we desire.

True prayer is humbling, subversive, and transformative. It reveals the holiness at the heart of humanity and liberates us from fear that we might refashion the world in love. It manifests as teshuvah and tikkun; returning us to God that we might remake the world with godliness.

Mike: Response to Rami's 1/6 Post

I think you are right. We come at the matter from different angles, both of which have their own merits, and our perspectives complement one another.

Personal transformation, if authentic, must lead one to face and address social/political matters, especially with regard to liberation and equality. A prophetic stand against tyranny and a subsequent social revolution minus personal transformation may well lead to another kind of tyranny in the long run.

That being said, I want to move to the next phrase of the prayer: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus refers to the kingdom of God, the core of his message and vision. He calls us to pray that the way of heaven might become the way of earth.

What does the way of heaven (the kingdom of heaven) look like? We know from the other teachings of Jesus, such as those we've been unpacking from the Sermon on the Mount, or the declaration of his ministry as found in Luke 4:18-19. It's the kind of world in which the blind see and the captives are set free, both by the rightful presence and rule of God and through our cooperation. The worship of God and welfare of one another unite to become the primary value around which life is structured.

Jesus' words assume that his followers will want, or learn to want, such a world. The prayer itself may, should,reshape us into such persons. Of course, the more we learn to yearn for God's kingdom to shape the world in which we live, the more open we are to changes in our personal lives and the broader life of society.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 1/5 Post

I remind you of Greek philosophers? Which ones? Plato? Aristotle? Or Arianna Huffington? Actually I am taken with a number of Greek philosophers especially Heraclites and Epicurus. The latter was so hated by the ancient rabbis that they used the Hebrew version of his name, apikoros as a synonym for heretic. I am that to some. Proudly.

As we get into the Lord’s Prayer, let me remind everyone that I come at this assuming Jesus was a Jew speaking primarily to Jews in the idiom they knew best. Given that, we should not be surprised that Jesus borrows from Jewish texts and teachings in fashioning his Way. The genius of Jesus is that he took the Judaism of his day and recast it for a new day.

I want to take up the Lord’s Prayer section by section, sometimes line by line, to allow us time to go into this deeply. I will link the phrases (where applicable) to Jewish text and teaching, and then give my spin as to their meaning. Let's start with the text.

Our Father in heaven The metaphor of God as father is biblical: Psalm 103:13, Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 63:16, and Jeremiah 31:9, to cite just a few examples, so Jesus is again drawing on the prophetic tradition of Judaism.

In addition, referring to God as “our Father” was common in Jesus’ time. The Hebrew prayer Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King) dates from this period, and Rabbi Akiva who, like Jesus, was martyred by Rome years before the Gospels were written, taught the prayer, “Our Father, our King, we have no king beside You. Our Father, our King, have mercy on us for Your sake,” (Ta’anit 25b). Having no king beside God is what got both Jesus and Akiva killed.

Linking “father” with “king” is the equivalent of Jesus balancing “father” with “heaven,” and means the same thing: God is both immanent and transcendent. The full phrase “Our Father in heaven” or as Jesus would have said it, Avinu sheh-ba-shemayim was an epithet much beloved by the rabbis of his day and earlier. In Sotah 9:15, for example, the rabbis say that true piety is doing the will of Avinu sheh-ba-shamayim.

Hallowed be your name is part of the opening line of the Kaddish prayer which ancient and contemporary rabbis use to close each teaching session: Yitgadal, v’yitkadash, shemay rabbah: "Make great and hallow Your great Name." It is also the prayer recited in honor of the dead, but this is a latter use of the prayer.

Without getting bogged down in textual history, I think it is safe to say that “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” clearly reflects and draws upon Jesus’ Jewishness. But what does it mean?

One the one hand, it means just what it says: Let us sanctify the One who is both as close to us as a father and as far beyond us as the heavens. But why refer to God’s Name rather than directly to God? Why not say, “Our Father in heaven, be hallowed”? Why the reference to God’s Name?

The Name to which Jesus refers is the Shem haMiphorash, Ineffable Four-letter Name of God which Jews believed was revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14). God says to Moses that people used to know God as El Shaddai, the All Powerful, but now through Moses they will come to know God as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, the unconditional I Will Be What I Will Be that became the Four-letter Name, YHVH. Why the new Name? Because God is taking on a new role: God is not simply the transcendent Creator but also immanent Liberator. Our relationship to God is not simply one of thanksgiving and praise, but of active partnership in the liberation of the enslaved.

It isn’t El Shaddai that sends Moses to Pharaoh, but YHVH, and it is this Name that Jesus wants us to hallow. It is this Name his rabbinic colleagues want us to make great. Why? Because it is the Name of liberation. What Jesus and the rabbis are calling for, albeit in highly coded language that only Jews would understand, is the end of tyranny and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The coding allows the message of liberation to spread without catching the attention of the Romans for whom the phrase "Your Name" is meaningless.

Thus as I read the Lord's Prayer, from the very first line Jesus is calling for revolution: "Our Father in heaven, let Your Name, let Your freedom, let Your liberation be hallowed, and not the name of Caesar and the tyranny that comes with it!"

As is common with us, Mike, we come at this from two different angles. I see Jesus the revolutionary, you see Jesus the Christ. I hear a call for resistance and you hear a call for transformation. But I don’t think either of us is wrong. On the contrary, I think Jesus, like every authentic prophet of any religion, is a catalyst for both social revolution and personal transformation. You cannot have one with out the other, at least not if you expect either to be fully authentic. In fact by hearing each other's understanding of Jesus' words I suspect we each broaden our own perspectives and understandings of Jesus as well. At least that is my hope and my experience so far.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mike: The Lord's Prayer Continued, 1-5-09 Post

Your understanding of the meaning of "God" sometimes reminds me of that shared by some ancient Greek philosophies and Christian thelogical systems heavily influenced by Greek philosophical thought. That being said, let's unpack the Lord's Prayer. It should be interesting to see where our understanding intersects or diverges.

The prayer opens with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."

Prayer forms us, and the Lord's Prayer begins the ongoing process with it's first term: "Our." The prayer does not begin with "My Father," but with "Our Father." Immediately, Jesus pushes us to step away from the rank individualism which characterizes much of modern American Christianity and discover (or rediscover)that we are one humanity before God.

Taken seriously, over time the insight may transform our perspective. At first, it challenges our egoism, weakening our tendency to expect all the creation and God to center on us. As time goes on, and we become aware of the diversity of people praying the same words, we may begin to lay aside divides fueled by racism, ideology,economics, culture and nationalism. Eventually, we may realize God is the parent of all persons, even those who do not acknowledge this is so. The term "our" is subversive of all typical human divisions, leading us to acknowledge our kinship.

"Father" presents problems for any number of modern Christians, mostly because of a heightened sensitivity to gender issues. The term "Father" plays a critical role in the prayer, however. It translates the Greek term "Abba," which is the kind of intimate word a small child might use, the rough English equivilent being "Daddy." Praying the prayer encourages us to know the kind of God who is approachable, who loves us, and who wishes to nurture us.

Christian commentators of past generations often contrasted such an image of God with the supposed first century Jewish notion of a distant, law-giving God. Commentators of the past half century or so have demolished this viewpoint, noting that ancient Judaism held a position similar to that of Jesus.

"In heaven" nicely balances "our Father." We may know God as our loving parent, but we must not fall prey to the notion that we know all there is to know of God. The "God Who Can Be Experienced" is also the "God Beyond Knowing." Study and experience suggests most of us are inclined toward one or the other pole. Jesus's prayer keeps both poles in healthy tension.

"Hallowed be your name" concludes the opening sentence. We might paraphrase it as: "May your name be treated as holy." Here, it seems to me, Jesus weaves the great commandment against using the Lord's name in vain into the practice of prayer, giving it a postive spin. More importantly, perhaps, Jesus makes adoration of God a crucial component of prayer, and so of the life formed by the practice of prayer. Learning to adore (worship, bow the knee, pick your favorite word or phrase) is the only lasting antidote to worshiping one's self or some piece of the creation.

I look forward both to your response and to what you have to say about the Jewishness of the phrase.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Rami: Response to Mike's 12/30 Post

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.