Our Father

 It takes me ten minutes or more, these days, to say the Lord’s Prayer. And often I run out of time and have to rush the end. This prayer, commanded and taught by Jesus, just keeps going deeper.
    Consider only the first two words, “our Father.” To say those words is to express a mystery beyond human the grasp of the human mind. We fail to be sensitive to this mystery because the words are familiar, even ordinary: people have been saying these words for centuries. Yet they bespeak a profound mystery. Simply to talk to God is to do something that it seems should be impossible. God is the author of our being, and characters do not speak to their author!
    Recently I read again The Comforters, a novel by Muriel Spark. There is a character in that novel who realizes she is a character in a novel, and she doesn’t like it. She feels it takes away her freedom. But the reader can see a truth that the author hints at, that the freedom of a character is not diminished by the fact that she is a character. We have heard authors tell us that their characters take on lives of their own. It seems to be a common experience of good fiction writing. Characters can surprise their authors in what they do, whether they be aware or unaware that they are characters. In a similar way, we are free.
    Yet we can talk to our author. That in itself is amazing.
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    But there is more. We are taught to speak to our author as “Father” by Jesus for whom God really was his Father. Somehow Jesus has invited us into his family. We get to use the same words that Jesus used. To be part of the family means that we are brothers and sisters of Christ.
    When I start this prayer, I am at once reminded that Jesus is my brother.

    And there is still more. We have that plural word, “our.” He isn’t my Father only, nor is Jesus brother only to me, but there is a group of us. Who knows how big that group is? It includes everyone who ever says or has said (or will say) this prayer.
    Which is to say, right at the start I am reminded that I never pray alone. Whenever I start praying, I am invoking a vast company of fellow-prayers.
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    There’s a lot more to the prayer. But merely two words of it, you see, can take us into far-reaching marvels.    
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    Out & About. Sunday, March 24, is the spring theology lecture, on what good is suffering: 6 p.m. at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas. In the church, with reception following.
    I am to preach at Incarnation’s traditional services on March 31: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.
    Sunday, April 7, will be the next “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar. Our text: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation at 6 p.m.

Beside You?

I am out running on the Katy trail—I sometimes think “running” should be written thus, in scare quotes; I don’t want you to think of it as serious running. The other runners always pass me: I never pass them. Anyway, it is early in the morning, the sun is not quite up, a few birds are singing, occasionally a plane flies overhead; it is rather quiet. Scarce are the runners on the trail.

I am alone and I hear someone coming up behind me. That’s not unusual: as I said, other runners often catch up to me and pass. But this person just stays there, slightly behind me. I turn to look at him or her.

There is no one there.

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It’s happened before—in Denver at Christmas, for instance. I think it’s an illusion of sound slightly muffled by my hooded sweatshirt; maybe it’s my own footfalls that I hear, maybe the rattle of my keys. Whatever it is, I first think that someone has come up behind me, and then that that someone is about to pass me but never does. Then I look, and I’m alone.

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  1. S. Eliot has these lines in “The Waste Land”: Who is the third who walks always beside you? / When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you / Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded / I do not know whether a man or a woman / -But who is that on the other side of you?

In a note, Eliot remarks upon reading accounts of Antarctic explorers who kept over-counting how many there were in their party. We might also think of the two disciples in Luke 24: it’s after the resurrection, but they don’t know of the resurrection yet. They’re walking home, saddened by the tragic events in Jerusalem, when Jesus comes up beside them. They do not know it is Jesus.

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You might be walking with me, or with someone else. You’re going along, and suddenly the Other One is with you. Where did he come from? How is it that he’s beside you? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m glad he’s there.

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Out & About. Wed., Jan. 30, is the first session of a three-credit Nashotah House course that I’m teaching in Dallas. Any one interested in a seminary-level course in “Christian Theological Anthropology” (Christian teaching about the human being) is welcome to join. You have to sign up through Nashotah; I will be glad to provide a syllabus and a link with instructions. We’ll meet on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m. through early May.

The weekend of Feb. 2 and 3 I will be preaching at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City. Their Eucharists are Saturday at 5:30, and Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m.

Sunday, Feb. 10, I’ll lead a discussion on Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. If you haven’t read this, it is at once powerful and simple, full of frontier American faith and questions of morals and tradition and family and friends. The seminar, part of the Good Books & Good Talk series, meets at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."