Prayer-a-Phrasing

I’ve previously blogged about my past experience teaching the Sacraments to 5th graders about 15 years ago. It’s odd to think it has actually been that long ago, but the wall calendar behind me verifies this is true! I’ve already admitted that I wasn’t the best fit in the role of trying to keep that many ten year olds under control, but I still tried my best to make it interesting for the kids. Sometimes it was playing hangman with vocabulary words, sometimes it was play acting the different Sacrament ceremonies.  One time it was helping the kids to put the Lord’s Prayer into their own words.

When I was an RCIA sponsor a few years before, one of the other candidates, named Dean, often shared tremendous insight and quite a sense of humor during our group meetings. I considered myself fortunate that my own candidate and I were assigned to the same table as Dean and his wife Lena, who was sponsoring his initiation into the Church. We shared with the same small table group each week over the course of the full RCIA year and Dean was always a great contributor.

One week Dean shared with our small table a story about his son’s prayer life as an adolescent — I’m guessing he was maybe about twelve years old at the time.  As I recall the story, he would say one line of the Lord’s Prayer and then paraphrase it into his own words. He would then go on to the next line and repeat the process through to the very end of the prayer. Dean admitted that his son’s motivation in this exercise, as you would probably expect from a young man at that age, was essentially just to act silly. But Dean’s point in bringing this up in the first place was to recognize the unintended result of his son’s actions. Through this self-imposed “prayer-a-phrasing”, his son had to truly process the sentiment and meaning of the words rather than just rattle off the memorized phrases. How often do we recite prayers or the pledge of allegiance, or sing a school fight song or alma mater without ever really thinking about the words passing through our lips?  For my Catholic brothers and sisters, since the Church made the most recent subtle changes to the Nicene Creed and some of the responses at Mass do you find yourself more consciously concentrating on the words than you did ten years ago?

So rewinding back 15 years again, on one particular occasion while teaching a religious education lesson, I recalled Dean’s story and decided to integrate his son’s exercise into a class project. I don’t independently recall the suggested lesson plan, but no doubt the primary focus for that week were the words given to us by Jesus in Mt. 6:9-13.

I had a class of about 20 kids pair off into groups or two or three. Each group was assigned one line from the Lord’s Prayer. I had each group randomly pull a slip of paper out of a hat to determine which phrase they were assigned.  They each spent about 10-15 minutes discussing the meaning of their assigned paper slips and to rephrase that segment into their own words.  I remember explaining to them that we could never improve upon the prayer that Jesus himself gave to us, but that we could enhance our own understanding and awareness of what Jesus taught us with those words.

At the end of the class, I collected all of the papers and put them all together into a single collective class prayer that we prayed together during our lesson the following week.

I shared that prayer again during an adult education session a few months later and then filed it away.  I am a digital pack rat and tend to save every scrap of paper from any meetings or gatherings that I think I might have a later use for.  I take most of those prayers, papers, and presentations and scan them into digital pdf files saved to my hard drive.  Years later I searched and searched my laptop for a copy of this prayer. I wanted to share it with another ministry group, but I could not seem to find my original draft of it anywhere in my computer files. I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was not there anywhere and that I had lost it forever.

After work on Tuesday of this week, I came home to find a short stack of old papers sitting on my desk.  I soon found out that my wife had come across them in the bottom drawer of our filing cabinet.  They were all about 10-15 years old or more and had been there undisturbed for most of those years — forgotten.  My wife (rightfully so) often takes the position that if you’ve lived without an item for X years and haven’t missed it or realized it was missing, you probably didn’t need it anyway.  This philosophy is obviously 180˚ opposed to my own save-everything-at-all-costs mentality (which I truly believe I inherited from my father, who is now in Heaven).

My wife admitted to me she was just going to throw those papers out or shred them, but that something made her stop and think about that decision.  For whatever reason (which she couldn’t even explain herself) she decided to put the stack of papers on my desk for me to sort through — knowing that I probably wouldn’t get to it right away and that they would likely just sit there for the next several months or more.  Something told her that was the right thing to do, even though it went against her own nature.

Included in that stack of papers was this prayer. There may be a slight loss in the translation of a few lines, but this is still a pretty remarkable prayer-a-phrase in my opinion when you consider the source.

Was it just a coincidence that my wife changed her mind against putting these long forgotten papers through the shredder? (The irony is that I HAVE since shredded the physical copy — after scanning it into my digital computer documents).

Praise God!!!  (and maybe do that by offering a prayer-a-phrase of your own!)

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One thought on “Prayer-a-Phrasing

  1. Loved your story, Tom. I, too, have experienced getting answers, i.e, dream the answer, the answer just pops into my mind, or someone sends me something meaningful that I could never imagine I would obtain. I also believe God has lots of helpers that we think of as guardian angels.

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