How should students of A Course in Miracles view the Lord’s Prayer? Should they pray it, for instance, as part of their spiritual practice? Many students know that the Course has its own version of this prayer (T-16.VII.12), but what they may not realize is that the Course contains literally dozens of scattered references to different parts of the Lord’s Prayer. I recently did a study of these references, as part of a dialogue with a friend (in which, for his part, he educated me on how the prayer has been traditionally viewed), and what I found was fascinating. Over and over the Course alludes to some particular part of the Lord’s Prayer but modifies it in such a way as to subtly comment on it. Overall, this commentary expresses significant agreement with the prayer but also communicates a great deal of correction, either of the meaning in the prayer or the meaning we associate with the prayer. In what follows I will attempt to capture the essence of that commentary for each of the lines of the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
The Lord’s Prayer opens with this familiar exaltation of God. Everything points upward. God is not only our Father, His abode is high in Heaven and His very Name is holy. The Course essentially agrees with all of this. Most of its prayers open by addressing God as Father and several even open with “our Father.” The Course loves the image of God as the perfectly caring, protective, generous, accessible father. Ironically, though, this image places the Course in a certain tension with the rest of this first line. For, as we all know, a perfectly loving father does not exalt himself above his children; his attitude is more like that of the father of the prodigal son: “Son…all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). For this reason, whenever the Course alludes to the phrase “hallowed be Thy Name,” it modifies it in such a way as to exalt us right along with God: “Hallowed your name and His, for they are joined” (C-4.8:2). In the Course’s teaching, our true name is not the name on our birth certificate. Our real name is actually God’s Name, for just as a father gives his name to his children, so God gave His Name to us. This paves the way for an amazing reversal. The Course takes the final phrase of this petition, which we normally say to God, and instead says it to us: “Hallowed your name. Your glory undefiled forever” (W-pI.rV.IN.10:2-3).
Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Here we pray that God’s Will be the sovereign force on earth, that Heaven be brought down to earth. Such a sentiment is very close to the Course’s heart, which alludes more times to this petition than any other (I count 23). Yet the Course tries to counter a deep assumption that we unwittingly inject into this line: that our will and God’s Will are on different sides of a great divide. Instead, says the Course, God’s Will is on our side. He wills only that we be eternally happy. And He makes sure that nothing stands in the way of our will, even when we choose misery. Just as with the first petition, the Course turns this one around and says it to us; indeed, has God saying it to us: “For God Himself has said, ‘Your will be done'” ( T-31.VI.4:7; see also T-24.III.5:8, 8:9). Yet why would He do something so seemingly reckless? Because He knows that our will is not what it seems. We don’t really want all the toys we so wearily pursue; they cannot satisfy infinite beings. God is the only the true object of our desire. Knowing this, God asks us to let our will be done (T-24.III.8:7-9)—our true will. And this is how we fulfill the biblical imperative that His Kingdom come to earth. God doesn’t just zap the world into compliance; He must work through willing messengers. By realizing our will is really His, we become His Will in action, and through us Heaven is brought down to earth.
Give us this day our daily bread
This line expresses a wonderful trust in God to supply our needs on a continual basis. It does not say, “Give us a big windfall so that we don’t have to worry about trusting you for a while.” The Course, too, sees God (through the Holy Spirit) supplying even our most mundane needs, if our minds are truly open to Him (see T-13.VII.12-13). Yet what exactly is our daily bread? What is it that truly sustains us? The only definite Course reference to this line (T-2.III.5:10) and another possible reference (T-16.VII.12:6) combine to supply this answer: our real bread is the peace and freedom from fear that we experience in the holy instant. Relying on God for our daily bread therefore means consistently accepting His gift of the holy instant into our minds.
And forgive us our debts [trespasses], as we forgive our debtors [those who trespass against us].
This petition speaks of giving and receiving forgiveness, and how one leads to the other, themes that are central to A Course in Miracles. There are, however, two ways in which the Course parts company with this petition. First, this sounds as if God’s forgiveness of us is contingent on our forgiving others. There is a good argument that this is not what the original language suggested, but I think this is the way most of us have understood it. The Course, on the other hand, is clear that forgiving others awakens us to the fact that we have always been forgiven. Second, the Course teaches that it makes no sense to ask God to forgive our sins, for He knows us only as holy. Both of these points are captured in the following passage: “Ask not to be forgiven, for this has already been accomplished. Ask, rather, to learn how to forgive, and to restore what always was [your innocence] to your unforgiving mind ” (T-14.IV.3:4-5).
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
I think all Christians have puzzled over this line. I know I did when I was in church. Why would God lead us into temptation in the first place, and why would we have to ask Him not to? Modern translations have slightly softer versions: “do not bring us to the time of trial” (NRSV) or “do not subject us to the final test” (NAB). But these do not wipe away the impression that unless we ask, God might stick us in a bad situation. The Course, always alert to correct our fearful images of God, refers many times to this line, each time making clear that we are the ones who wander off into temptation, led there by our ego, and that God, rather than being the one who leads us into temptation, is the One Who leads us out of it.
For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer ends on this stirring affirmation of the greatness of God. Yet while we are affirming that the Kingdom and power and glory are God’s, we are probably assuming they are not ours , that they are as far beyond our reach as the stars in the sky. The Course takes the opposite tack. It says that because they are God’s, they must be ours. It is the nature of God to simply give us everything He has, including His power and glory. The same holds for His Kingdom. We may feel sure that God will cast us out of His Kingdom after consulting our file. Yet His actual verdict will come as a liberating surprise: “His verdict will always be ‘thine is the Kingdom'” (T-5.VI.10:8). Here again the Course takes a line that we are used to saying to God and shows God saying it to us. The Course even goes so far as to say that His Kingdom is not something we enter or even something inside us. Rather we are His Kingdom. We are the domain in which He reigns.
Here is my attempt to compact all of this into a Course version of the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, Your holy Name is ours, for we are Your Son.
We ask but that Your Will, which is our own as well, be done in us and in the world, that it become a part of Heaven now (W-pI.189.10:9).
Let us this day accept the holy instant as a gift from You, for that is our true daily bread.
Let us forgive the illusion of sin we see in our brother, and so awaken to the eternal truth that You have never seen sin in us.
And when we wander into temptation, we count on You to lead us back.
For You have shared all Your power and glory with us, and we acknowledge that we are Your Kingdom forever.
I also felt it was appropriate to construct a version that God speaks to us, based on that fascinating pattern we saw in which the Course turned three of the petitions around and said them to us:
My Son, hallowed be your name, for your true name is My Name.
Thy will be done. I ask you to let your will be done, for your true will is My Will.
Your glory be undefiled forever. However defiled you may think you are, My verdict will always be “thine is the Kingdom.”
To get the full benefit of these, I recommend that you actually use them: pray the first version, repeating it slowly and meaningfully to God, and really imagine the second version being spoken quite personally to you by God. I think you will be surprised at the results.