University Congregational Church
May 6, 2018
The Prayer Wheel: Holy is Your Name
In 2015, a group of rare manuscripts from medieval monasteries went on exhibit at the New York gallery Les Enluminures. The crown jewel of the collection, originally from an abbey in Liesborn, Germany, was a massive handmade book of the four gospels, created for ceremonial purposes such as the swearing of oaths. With its covers crafted from thick oak, the book was beautiful. It dates back to the year 980. The book is listed today for a mere 6.5 million. The book is speculated to have been made by an abbess to offer to her convent of nuns centuries ago or to a wealthy woman who had just taken her vows. Its cover was designed intricately with copper clasps on the carved oak.
The volume’s most unusual attribute was a curious circular diagram on a normally blank protective sheet before the title page. Its concentric bands were filled with spidery writing in deep brown and bright red. And at the center was the word Deus – God. – From The Prayer Wheel
When the prayer wheel was “re-discovered” in 2015, several theologians and historians took note and realized that it has the possibility of re-invigorating the prayer and meditative life of contemporary believers. While based on ancient traditions, it is structured in a way that has fresh opportunity. Since 2015, the prayer wheel has caught on and is now a way to guide the faith and prayer expressions of all of us.
It has been compared to Indiana Jones’ search for middle earth as well as the board game Parcheesi!
The wheel has 4 concentric bands with the key words of:
• “The Lord’s Prayer” on the outer band
• The Gifts of the Spirit on band 2
• the events in Jesus’ life on band 3
• and the beatitudes on band 4.
Together, these are the 7 contemplative paths toward God.
For the next several weeks, we will look in depth at one of the sections of the prayer wheel. I’m inviting you to take your bulletin home and use the prayer wheel all week for quiet meditation.
To start, I’d like you to turn toward a person beside, in front or behind you and quickly share a memory you have of the Lord’s Prayer, or your favorite line in it. Do this quickly and listen carefully to one another’s connection to the element of the Christian tradition.
In the earliest days of Christianity, this prayer was considered such a treasure that people had to go through three years of training and preparation before they could be entrusted with the sacred words. Now, we are often guilty of mindlessly mouthing it – or reading it without much thought. In our well-meaning and sincere efforts to memorize the words (and use the right words at the right church) and stay in sync with each other, we may have lost its wild power.
In fact, these seemingly perfunctory phrases are alive with the mystery and the miracle of our faith. If we allow it, Jesus’ Prayer can open us to the holy. Richard Foster (who used to teach at Friends University) wrote: “Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love.” Prayer is that time when we allow ourselves to fall in love with what is holy.
Today I want to focus in on the phrase “hallowed is your name.” The root word for “hallowed” is hal, which is also the root for the English words “whole” and “health”. To be holy is to find wholeness and health. Holiness is not a statement of moral perfection. This is very important! Each of you has holiness within you whether or not you consider yourself perfect.
When we say “hallowed is your name”, we are beginning a prayer where God – the Holy – invites us into communion and into this hallowed state of being. This prayer is an invitation to wake up from our spiritual complacency and to meet God. It opens us up to the holiness we can find anywhere and everywhere – in worship here or in solitary contemplation; in serving at the Lord’s Diner or in a university classroom; in the stranger down the street or our neighbor next door. This is what our traditional word for today teaches – that we are related to God and we are to be glorified with God.
In fact, my seminary history professor taught us that Abba – which is commonly translated as “Daddy” – could be thought about in terms of the one you might call out when you have awakened from a bad dream. Who is that one you yearn for when you are afraid? What is the name of the one you might call out when you are half awake and need comfort? That name is the one we can associate in the deepest prayers of our hearts – and the Lord’s Prayer. Holy is that name.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Mama! Honey! Grandma! Sweetheart) it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:14-17
When we begin the Lord’s Prayer, we begin with an acknowledgement that God is holy and hallowed. But we say much more than that – we are saying that all which bears God’s imprint – including us and all living things – God has made whole and healthy. When we pray “Holy is your name”, we are recognizing the divine within us and outside of us that is whole and healthy. Take time to explore that in your quiet time. What would it look like for you to be even more whole and healthy?
In a time when we are shifting from communicating in sentences to simple tweets and memes, this prayer wheel gives us a short word or phrase to use as a thought. Follow the shaded part of the prayer wheel from the outside to the inside with your finger. Today, take 1-2 minutes to meditate on the phrase “holy is your name”. Tomorrow, meditate on “wisdom”. The next day move into the wheel and meditate on “incarnation”. On Wednesday, you can meditate on “peacemakers” and on Thursday, on what it means to “be filled”. Finally, next Friday and Saturday, take a few minutes to consider how each of these words are connected and how they lead you to God. You may find it helpful to trace your finger along the path while you are meditating and noting what images, questions, associations and insights each phrase evokes in your mind.
Place a copy of the bulletin or cut out the prayer circle where you can see it regularly. Put it on your kitchen table or your bedside stand. Make the prayer – which is easily google-able as your screen saver. Attach it to the dashboard of your car. Live with the prayer for the next several weeks. Let the words saturate your mind and heart.
Thomas Kelly said that “prayer is to be invaded to the depths of one’s being by God’s presence.” May that be your experience during these weeks as we study and use the prayer wheel to enrich our spiritual lives.
“The Prayer Wheel; A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice.” By Patton Dodd, Jana Riess, and David Van Biema. Convergent Books, 2018.