28 August 2013
Every day countless people around the world use the words we know as the Lord's Prayer.
This prayer is uttered in a huge diversity of situations, from the affluence of the western first world to the poverty of developing countries, where famine, drought and violence may be the norm.
It is said in many different languages and with varying degrees of engagement - from the child in the classroom to the frail patient in a hospital bed - and with life's expectations and experiences brought to the words as they are recited.
‘Praying these words in a refugee camp has an urgency that is a world away from the hurried prayer before a trip to the local supermarket.'
But what do they mean, these well-known and often-used words? In particular, what are we asking for when we petition for 'our daily bread'?
Praying these words, asking for 'our daily bread' alongside brothers and sisters in Christ in a refugee camp, or a camp for displaced persons, has an urgency that is a world away from the hurried prayer before a trip to the local supermarket to stack a trolley with delicacies way beyond our needs for the coming week.
To go deep into a refugee camp and pass queues of people scrambling for meagre rations, and children carrying the family's supply of water for that day in battered vessels on their heads, must surely pose some uncomfortable questions for those of us who fly home to plenty.
On different occasions, after such visits, I have reached my seat in the jumbo jet to return home and vowed never to complain again, grateful for my 'daily bread' in abundance.
But once home, gratitude gives way to acceptance, and acceptance to ever greater expectations of consumerism and plenty once again.
Yet the challenges of these disturbing experiences remain.
What is required of me if I sit and share bread offered to me sacrificially by one with whom I pray these words which were taught by our Lord, and which have remained a living prayer to this day?
In prayer there is at least some element of partnership – with God, and with those he may use to be his hands, his feet, and his voice.
The child praying for daily bread needs it to be offered in a nurturing environment to thrive.
The weak and vulnerable need their daily bread brought to them with kindness and with care.
Our Lord taught us to pray, but he also talked of mercy.
'Who is my neighbour?' the lawyer asked in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
When Jesus had told the story, he turned the question on the lawyer and received the answer 'the one who showed mercy' (or kindness in some translations of the Bible).
To see our neighbour around the corner and around the world, and to pray and to act so that all of us may have our daily bread, is a Christian challenge for us in our world today, that we too may show the mercy of which Our Lord spoke and taught - not as an option but as an imperative.
Christine Eames, trustee, Christian Aid Ireland.
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