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Aug 01, 2011 by Chad Holtz

My last year at Duke Divinity I sat in on a panel discussion between Sam Wells, dean of Duke Chapel, and Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain to Duke University. (Imam Antepli also spoke at Wild Goose this summer.) In the course of their discussion about Islam and Christianity, Imam Antepli said something that disturbed me a great deal about my faith. It went something like this:

When I ask a Muslim what makes them a Muslim I get an immediate response which includes things like, I pray 5 times a day, I take care of the sick and the poor, I do not eat this or that, I fast on a regular basis and I observe Ramadan.   These practices make me Muslim, they would say.

Imam Antepli then said the thing that damned me and I think most Christians,

When I ask Christians what makes them Christian I usually get an odd look, and an uncomfortable silence ensues.  At most, they might say that they believe in Jesus.

Believing in Jesus is just fine, I think we can all agree.   But Muslims believe in Jesus.  Heck, Jesus said that even demons believe.

Our Christian tendency to fall back on belief talk is an indication of just how well the Reformation worked.   We swung the pendulum to the other side – completely.   And I suspect that Martin Luther would swing to the other side of his grave if he heard our spineless Christian responses to what it means to be Christian.

Today marks the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims.   It is the start of a month long period of fasting and prayer and worship.   When I lived in Bahrain back in my unchurched days I watched devout Muslims go as far as spitting their saliva out of their mouths while the sun was out so as to not break their fast from water.   It was 130+  degrees outside.   I observed this from my air conditioned apartment, sipping my FIJI water bottle while thanking God I was born to a Christian household.

That was 15 years ago.    Today, I wish Christians had Ramadan.   I think we’d be stronger, more faithful, more joyful, and better off for it.

We are all orienting our lives around something.  We are being habituated in ways that either bring life or death, or maybe something in between, like apathy.    It might surprise many of us to discover that the first Christians around Jesus called themselves The Way.     Being a Christian was about living in a certain way that was distinguishable from other ways.  It might surprise many of us to discover that Sharia, the law for Muslims so often used pejoratively in America, also means The Way.

Have we lost our way when we reduce Christianity to a belief?

Christianity needs a Ramadan.   More precisely, we need to embrace the practices – the ways – that make us unique and distinguishable.  We need to become lovers of liturgy again.

That is what Ramadan is, essentially.  A form of liturgy.   It forms Muslims in a way that fasting, prayer, scripture, eucharist and baptism ought to be shaping us Christians.   What a pity that so many churches celebrate eucharist, a central component to Christian worship, monthly at best, quarterly or yearly at worst.   I’ll never forget the response a professor of mine gave to the objection that frequent eucharist waters down its significance.    He asked, “Do you have sex with your spouse only quarterly to maintain its importance?”

Most mornings I post on my Facebook page a status that simply reads “coffee and morning prayer.”   Each day I use a prayer book that guides me through my scripture readings for the day and directs my thoughts towards God – if only for 15 minutes.    Someone once asked what my motivation was for doing that.  Was I trying to convert people to my religion?   Or was I just too lazy to think of something more creative to say?    There may be some truth in both of those possibilities, but the best answer I can offer is that it grounds me in a habit that brings me life and I hope (in fact, I know it does) it models for others one way among many ways that we can distinguish ourselves as Christian.   It would be a very cool thing, I think, to see my Newsfeed filled with “coffee and morning prayer” from the faithful and trying-to-be-faithful among us.    And if you must ask, yes, coffee (black) is the only acceptable offering to the Lord early in the morning.   Should you pray after 5, a cold AmberBock is also on the approved list.

So, thank you, my Muslim brothers and sisters, for reminding us this Ramadan season that we Christians need to embrace our liturgy – our way – to greater degrees.    May we become known increasingly more for the bread and wine we consume at every mass, the widow and orphan we stand beside, the absurd ways we turn the other cheek, the radical ways we forgive, the devotion we have to our scriptures and prayers, and the affection we have for Christ’s body, the Church.

Happy Ramadan, everyone.

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From you is born all ruling will,

the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all –

from age to age it renews.

To you belongs each fertile function:

ideals, energy, glorious harmony –

during every cosmic cycle.

Out of you, the queen- and kingship –

ruling principles, the “I can”

of the cosmos …

Out of you, the vital force

producing and sustaining all life,

every virtue …

Out of you the astonishing fire,

the birthing glory, returning light and sound

to the cosmos …

Again and again, from each universal gathering –

of creatures, nations, planets, time, and space –

to the next.

Truly – power to these statements –

may they be the ground from which all

my actions grow:

Sealed in trust and faith.

Amen.

Neil Douglas-Klotz, “Prayers of the Cosmos” pg. 37

But Deliver Us Evil.

Don’t let us be deluded by the surface of life, but neither let us become so inward and self-absorbed that we cannot act simply and humanly at the right time. The prayer reminds us that sometimes our ideals – including those of holiness, peace, and unity – carry us into the future or the past and make it difficult to be present where help is needed now.

Wela tahlan l’nesyuna

Neil Douglas-Klotz explains that in the Aramaic, no one from outside, least of all God, leads us into temptation. Wela tahlan could be translated, “don’t let us enter,” “Don’t let us be seduced by the appearance of’,” or “ Don’t let us heap up what’s false or illusory in.” Nesyuna could be translated as “temptation,” in the Aramaic sense of something that leads to inner vacillation or agitation, diverting us from the purpose of our lives. The word’s root, pictures a flag waving in the wind, a picture of forgetfulness.

Ela patzan min bisha was translated “but deliver us from evil.” In Aramaic and Hebrew Bisha does mean “evil” or “error” but with the sense of “unripeness” or inappropriate action. The word’s root point toward what delays or diverts us from advancing with a sense of shame for not producing good fruit — the right action at the right time. Patzan could also be translated “loosen the hold of,” “give liberty from,” or “break the seal that binds us to.”

Don’t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back

(from our true purpose).

Don’t let us enter forgetfulness,

the temptation of false

appearances.

(To the fraud of inner vacillation –

like a flag tossed in the wind –

alert us.)

But break the hold of unripeness,

the inner stagnation that

prevents good fruit.

(From the evil of injustice –

the green fruit and the rotten –

grant us liberty.)

Deceived neither by the outer

nor the inner – free us to

walk your path with joy.

Keep us from hoarding false wealth,

and from the inner shame of

help not given in time.

Don’t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back.

Neil Douglas-Klotz, “Prayers of the Cosmos” pg 34,35

In transliterated Aramaic this phrase is rendered:     Hawvlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana.                  The word for ‘bread’, lachma, can also mean ‘understanding’, food for all forms of growth and basic life. The basic root of this word -HMA- pictures growing vigor, verdancy, warmth, passion and possibility. We need to remember from the discussion of the first line of the prayer in Aramaic that in the word Abwoon, “Our Father, the h and the oo sounds point to the breath which emanates from and returns to the earth with the eternal cry of the mother, –ma. In Proverbs the root became hochma, translated as “Holy Wisdom” which later became the Greek word Sophia. So we receive from the Source, the Oneness, the ‘Birther, Father-Mother of the Cosmos’, moment by moment the breath that gives us life and the bread that sustains us. And just as the breath of God gives us life in the image of God, so the bread sustains us in that given life and may also be seen to give us understanding or Wisdom to guide us unto the next step of our life.

So as we see in Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. … Can we see in the Lord’s Prayer teaching that Jesus, a Jew, and Matthew’s new Moses, may well be reminding the Disciples of the requirement that they follow God’s instruction on a day by day basis and that when they/we do follow God’s instruction, God will provide the breath, bread and Holy Wisdom to carry us until we ask again tomorrow? If we attend to the lessons learned by the Israelites over the forty years in the Sinai, we will know that hoarding and making our own plans for tomorrow will be counter productive toward our relationship with God. Like the ancient Israelites and the Disciples, we too must learn to communicate with God daily in order to be fed and led for the next step in our life.

References to Aramaic translations and word meanings are drawn from “Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus ” by Neil Douglas-Klotz

THY KINGDOM COME

From Neil Douglas-Klotz’ “The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus” page 83 and following. “In the four Gospels Jesus uses the word usually translated ‘KINGDOM’ more than a hundred times, most of these in Matthew and Luke ..
First, the word usually translated as ‘kingdom’ is gendered feminine in both Aramaic (malkuta) and Hebrew (mamlaka). In fact, the word translated as “kingdom” in the Greek New Testament, basileia, is also a feminine gendered noun. Quite apart from any considerations of political correctness, ‘queendom’ would be a more accurate translation. As we now know from archeological records, queens historically preceded kings in the Middle East, as in many other parts of the world. It is not surprising that the gender of the word for their realm reflects this. Second, beyond the issue of gender, the word’s roots point to a fully formed (M) extension of power (L) that is centralized and determined (K). This root – MLK– is the sign of the creative word, the empowering vision, the counsel that rules by its ability to express the most obvious next step for a group. On a personal level, this root expresses that which says ‘I can!’ to life.
Pg 86 The Queendom – Both Within and Among
… the arrival of the reign of empowerment that Jesus predicted could be seen as both personal and political. Without a communal change of heart, nonviolent revolution would not be possible. Unless the whole community said ‘I can!’ to a new sense of itself, change would not happen.
Pg 89 Asking for the ‘I Can’ to Come
The first steps toward the creation of the wholehearted empowerment in our lives are to leave space for it and ask for it with sincerity. We can’t overlook the power of devotion to create the feeling of possibility in our lives. As we touched upon in chapter four, this seemingly outer devotion also opens doors to our inner community of voices – in Aramaic terms, the naphsha or subconscious soul-self. It is there that we find the seeds of malkuta – empowerment, the inner revolution.
In the third line of Jesus’ prayer (usually translated “Thy kingdom come’), the Aramaic version uses the words teete malkutakh. The word for “come” (teete) suggests an urgency. It is an intensive form, something like, “Come, really come!” So other renditions of this phrase  can be:

Create your reign of unity now — through our fiery hearts and willing hands.                                                                                                           

Let your counsel rule our lives, clearing our intention for co-creation.    

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

Desire with and through us the rule of universal fruitfulness unto the earth.                                                                                                         

Your rule springs into existence as our arms reach out to embrace all creation.                                                                                                   

Come into the bedroom of our hearts, prepare us for the marriage of power and beauty.                                                                                    

From this divine union, let us birth new images for a new world of peace.                                                                                                      

Create your reign of unity now! 


This sense of self-confidence need not be egotistical. Only one “I” really exists. Sometimes we need to enlarge the sense of our personal “I” in order to allow the Universe to express its unique purpose through us.

Hallowed be thy Name

Anticipating that “Hallowed be thy name” would be the next installment in  Praying for Revolution, I prepared this reflection. If you have watched/heard the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic these words peel back a little more of the layers of the onion. “Hallowed be thy name” is rendered in Aramaic as ‘Nethqadash shmakh‘. Qadash is the Aramaic root of the Hebrew ‘kasher’, or ‘kosher’. We make a thing holy by setting it apart for a specific purpose. In Aramaic the separation occurs equally well inside us as out, so we may create a holy place, a separated place, inside ourselves, a ‘closet’ in our heart. Nethqadash  carries the image of clearing or sweeping or preparing ground for a special plant. I am of an age to remember a radio program “Fibber Magee and Molly” where Fibber had a notorious closet filled with all of his life’s junk that would disgorge its contents at most inappropriate times. Is my closet filled with all my junk or has it been cleaned to provide a hallowed place for the name of God to dwell? Jesus recommended going to this ‘heart-shrine’ (one of the meanings of “enter into thy closet”- Matt. 6:6) whenever we pray.

To quote Neil Douglas-Klotz directly: “In Aramaic, the prayer always directs us in a practical fashion. To make the experience of Abwoon useful, we need to create a place for this Oneness to live inside. Then the light of shem – the clarity or intelligence that arises in ultimate peace -becomes usable on an everyday basis, like light in a lamp.”

Some ways to translate “Hallowed be thy name”

Help us let go, clear the space inside

of busy forgetfulness: so the

Name comes to live.

and / or

Hear the one Sound that created all others,

in this way the name is hallowed

in silence.

and /or

We all look elsewhere for this light —

it draws us out of ourselves – but the Name

always lives within.

Focus your light within us – make it useful!

A Body Prayer
Anytime while engaged in work or action, take one long deep breath remembering this holy of holies within. The Name can become hallowed again, in an instant. Or: feel the sound of the phrase nethqadash shmakh inside. Let any small movements that this sound creates clear a space and bring you back to peace.

Our Father in Heaven

OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN

 The prayer that Jesus taught was spoken in Aramaic, a sung version of the prayer may be found here  FEMALE VOICE  or here a   MALE VOICE    of a Franciscan Friar from Bethlehem.  Another source of illumination is the book “Prayers of the Cosmos” where author Neil Douglas-Klotz examines the words and images and theology of the Lord’s Prayer from a middle eastern perspective.  It is a rich perspective from a tradition and culture that understands that there is immense power in words and that Aramaic words convey many layers of meaning and understanding.  Much of this layering has been lost to us through translation from Greek and Latin then several historical versions of European languages. Neil Douglas-Klotz is as well, an American Sufi and provides a bridge to that third Abrahamic religion.
Neil Douglas-Klotz describes the first line of the Lord’s Prayer as, “Our Birth in Unity” and renders “Our Father in Heaven” variously as:
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
you  create all that moves
in light.    or
O Thou! The Breathing life of all,
Creator of the Shimmering Sound that
touches us.    or
Source of Sound: in the roar and the whisper,
in the breeze and the whirlwind,we
hear your Name.     and
Name of names, our small identity
unravels in you, you give it back
as a lesson.
I wait with anticipation to follow how this topic will evolve.