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.
    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.
    There’s a lot more to the prayer. But merely two words of it, you see, can take us into far-reaching marvels.    
    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.


    I became an Episcopalian in college; only then did I learn that the season of Christmas begins (i.e. doesn’t end) on Christmas Day. Quickly I adapted to my new awareness that “it’s not Christmas until it’s Christmas”: I declined to reply in kind when someone wished me a merry Christmas. My local vicar told me that he would get phone calls from well-meaning Baptist ladies on about, say, January 1, telling him that he may not have noticed but his Christmas decorations were still out on the church lawn. “Yes,” he said of course, “it’s still Christmas.”
     Today I am uncomfortable with my earlier, rather too smug, self.
     For today, in the world we actually live in, there is an allergy even to uttering the word “Christmas.” The school holiday is a winter holiday. The background music is “All I want for Christmas is you” or “The weather outside is dreadful” or “I’m dreaming of a white . . .”  One doesn’t hear about the shepherds or the silent night or the angels we have heard on high. They’re gone, banished to an embarrassed storeroom where we keep things to which we no longer want to admit publicly.
     So I say, bring it on. I’m happy to say Merry Christmas whenever anyone wants to say it to me. Now. Last week. Halloween. Whenever.
     Why “merry”? It goes back (it seems) to the 12th century, where it was used to indicate that something gave pleasure. “Merry Christmas” as a wish means: may Christmas give you pleasure.
     And that means, methinks, may you find pleasure in the celebration of the Incarnation. May the Word of God’s taking on our human nature be something that gives you delight. May you in fact find delight in Jesus himself.
     Which is a very good wish indeed. So let us all say: Merry Christmas!
     Out & About. My fall theology lecture—on rules and exceptions, with particular attention to euthanasia and assisted suicide—is now up on the Incarnation website. You can find it here: https://incarnation.org/classes/moral-rules-and-personal-exemptions/
     I will be teaching a Christian ethics class in the new year. It meets on five Saturdays (once a month), from 1 to 4 p.m., with the first class on January 19. This is with the Stanton Center, and the classes will be at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. You can find more information here, including a registration form and a link to the program director: http://www.episcopalcathedral.org/stanton-center/   I can send you a syllabus if you drop me a line.
     The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminars will continue monthly, with the next one on Sunday, January 13, at 6 p.m. The text is C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, and anyone who reads the book is welcome to the discussion at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.



The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: