Spirit Quest —On love and hell

 

Spirit Quest
 
'Hell,' as Dostoevsky wrote, 'is the inability to love.'
 
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
 
Danger! What follows might be construed as “religious” by some and “irreligious” by others.
 

The Lord's Prayer

(King James version)

Our father which art in heauen,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen.
Giue us this day our daily bread.
And forgiue us our debts as we forgiue our debters.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliuer us from euill.
Amen.
Our father which art in heauen,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen.
Giue us this day our daily bread.
And forgiue us our debts as we forgiue our debters.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliuer us from euill.
Amen.Danger! What follows might be construed as “religious” by some and “irreligious” by others. 

I was not introduced to The Lord’s Prayer until I was ten years of age. My parents did not tuck me in nightly with calming, read: sleep invoking intercessions. They had distanced themselves from their respective faiths at age 18, a time of questioning for many, infavour of socialism albeit the democratic kind. Because of that political conviction which they dared to put into action beyond the ballot box, they were forced to flee the Nazi horde as they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Only after coming to Canada and attending that small, one room, public school  (8 grades, 30 children, one 19 year old teacher) in the woods of northern Saskatchewan, was I introduced to the Lord’s Prayer along with the singing of “God Save the King,” as the ritual at the beginning of each day.
 
My parents had no objection. They were of course familiar with the words from their own background in Catholicism (mother) and Lutheranism (father).
 
John Dominic Crossan is the eminent biblical scholar, the founder of the much maligned Jesus Seminar. Imagine a group of 150 academics voting on what Jesus said, might have said, or didn’t say! In his recent book The Greatest Prayer, he reminded me of the possible reason for my parent’s tolerance. Crossan called it the “Greatest Prayer” but also the strangest prayer.
 
- It is prayed by all Christians but never mentions Christ.
- It is prayed on all Sundays but never mentions Sunday.
- It is called the Lord’s Prayer but never mentions “Lord”
- It never mention what seems so essential to many Christians, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
- It never mentions the Holy Spirit.
- It never mentions congregations, priest, bishop or pope.
- It never mentions a single doctrine fought over so viscously at Nicea and has been the source of the divisions in the church ever since.
- There is no mention of the atonement, or sin (the original word is ”debt”)
- It never mentions a next life in heaven or hell.
 
The closing words of that prayer called the doxology: ‘For thine is the kingdom' are a later addition to that prayer and definitely not authentically the words of Jesus. Is he in fact the author or the inspiration of it?
 
Crossan calls this ”a prayer from the heart of Judaism, on the lips of Christians, for the conscience of the world ....  Is this a radical manifesto and a hymn of praise in language addressed to all the earth?”
 
To my atheist friends, and I have many, who would reject the very idea of addressing “Our Father” I would ask for indulgence for praying for our daily bread, for the forgiveness of debts, and for the strength and wisdom to reject temptations? 
 
I learned to love the beautiful words of the King James Version of the Great Prayer. The translation by Martin Luther into my mother tongue, German, always gives it a very special sense of familiarity. I also appreciate the many modern and more accurate translations from the original, though they may not be as poetic. At one time I was able to recite it in the Greek.
 
I honour this prayer for its ecumenical nature which ought to make it acceptable to those of the three monotheistic religions were it not so tainted by Christian use. It has thus come to be thought of as a specifically Christian prayer. Too bad!
 
Crossan’s book isn’t an easy read. It is tightly argued. He raises legitimate questions. But it is also interspersed with personal vignettes. Indeed, he closes his 190 page essay by telling about his early education in Ireland:
 
“In my early teens I learned that in John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, this is the urn’s message: 
 
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
that is all ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know.”
 
He then suggests an alternate  “ Ode on a Biblical Urn” and it tells us that,
 
“Justice is Love, love is justice,
that is all we know on earth,
and all we need to know.”
 
It is for this knowledge that we ought to turn to whoever rules our hearts and minds.
 
As previously mentioned, the Great Prayer does not use the word Spirit. Thus I hesitate to employ my usual closing, except that I sense within me a spirit that innervates this love and love for justice, and for my fellow travelers on this mortal journey and for this spaceship Earth. And remember that  “Hell,” as Dostoevsky wrote, “is the inability to love.”

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