By C Y Gopinath

Last week, out of the blue, I was reminded that Jesus did not write the Lord’s Prayer in the way we said it at assembly; and that no one in Jesus’s times, including Jesus, spoke English Religious scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer is hauntingly mystical. Illustration by C Y Gopinath using Midjourney

Father Roman Lewicki always taught us that the right questions mattered more than the right answers. We become better through our questions, he drilled into us. Nothing in life should be deemed unquestionable and beyond challenge. God bless Father Lewicki, I still say, long after I severed ties with the almighty.
Back then, at St Xavier’s High, the Jesuit school that really has been the most formative influence in my life, we didn’t quite know what to do with this gift of unfettered interrogation.
Can we question your religion? we asked the priest tentatively. People don’t like their faith questioned, as far as we knew.
But in Father Lewicki’s world, it was allowed. Nothing, we were told, was sacrosanct to the enquiring mind.
I rubbed my hands like a mud wrestler preparing to engage and asked him why Christianity felt the need for holy ghosts? Wasn’t it enough to say there is a loving god and leave it there? Why did they call wine the blood of Jesus when it was clearly brewed from grapes?
The Jesuit priests always considered each question seriously and answered carefully, using facts, logic, intelligence and kindness. We were allowed to disagree, argue back and defend our assertions. If occasionally we won, the padrés would graciously acknowledge defeat.
This brings me to the prayer all of us, irrespective of religion, were required to say during morning assembly: the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t misunderstand me, please. This was not an attempt to subvert or convert us: it was just a part of the Jesuit school’s Christian culture. I went to school in a different India, one where diverse religions co-existed in peace, without rancour or ill-will. No one, including parents, felt insulted.
As I entered my senior school years, the Lord’s Prayer bothered me more and more, and my conversations with Father Lewicki grew more numerous and lasted longer. The questions I asked him, relating to specific lines, were—Our Father, who art in heaven Why must God have a gender and why must it be male? Did God believe men were superior to women? Could we say Our Mother, who art in heaven?
Also, doesn’t this presume that heaven is a physical place and that God, like any mortal, needs a home? Isn’t god supposed to be everywhere?

Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
Kingdoms belong to kings and represent property owned. Why bring kings into it when the religion itself was founded by the poorest of human beings, Jesus?
Also, if everything is God’s will, what about my will? Is everything pre-ordained? Do I have a say in my life?

And forgive us our trespasses
Should it be so easy to get away with doing bad things?

And deliver us from evil.
Dividing everything into good and evil sounded a bit black-and-white simplistic to me.
Then school ended, we moved on, and I suppose Father Lewicki moved on too. I forgot about god, and god forgot about me.
Last week, out of the blue, I was reminded that Jesus did not write the Lord’s Prayer in the way we said it at school assembly; and that no one in Jesus’s times, including Jesus, spoke English. Our school prayer was a work of translation from Aramaic, an ancient language no one really understands much any more.
To complicate matters, the original Aramaic text was not available. Everything you read as Christ’s words in the New Testament was translated into Greek from Aramaic by second or third-generation Christians. The English language prayer we were taught had passed through three languages. The translator or translators were unknown, and there was no original document to check against.
I stumbled upon the work of a religious scholar called Neil Douglas-Klotz. In 1994, working on a book called Prayers of the Cosmos, he translated the Lord’s Prayer back into Aramaic from Greek, and then translated it directly into English. The result is a hauntingly mystical and fulfilling prayer that I would teach to any child anywhere. The words in italics are Neil Douglas-Klotz’s translation.

Our Father who art in heaven
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, you create all that moves in light.

Hallowed be thy name
Focus your light within us—make it useful: as the rays of a beacon show the way.

Thy kingdom come
Unite our “I can” to yours, so that we walk as kings and queens with every creature.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Create in me a divine cooperation—from many selves, one voice, one action.

Give us this day our daily bread
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Forgive our hidden past, the secret shames, as we consistently forgive what others hide.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Deceived neither by the outer nor the inner—free us to walk your path with joy.
Here is a prayer an atheist like me can hold in his heart. The Greek word that means verily or truly passes through my mind.

Courtesy: The Mid Day

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