“The Prayer Wheel: Give Us This Day”

May 27, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
May 27, 2018

The Prayer Wheel – Give Us This Day
John 6:35

Have you ever hosted an open house or listed your house on the market? Realtors advise doing something to make your house smell like a home… put a simmering pot of potpourri on a back burner or bake homemade cookies, or better yet, have a fresh loaf of bread coming out of the oven. Take a whiff of fresh bread and your heart jumps into full nostalgia for hearth and home.

As the smell wafts through our bodies are comforted, we feel at home, we buy the house. Did you know that the Hebrew word Bethlehem – the little town we sing about at Christmas – Bethlehem means “the house of bread”? In Hebrew, Beth-lehem is two words and means “house” (Beth as in Beth-el, “house of God”) and “bread” (lehem). That Jesus was called the “bread of life” is no mistake. It is no mystery that he used bread as a symbol for his own life during the last supper.

In the ancient Middle East, bread was thought to be part of the divine provision for the physical needs of humanity. To say that a person had bread was to say that the person had enough to satisfy his/her physical and spiritual hunger. In fact, the word “bread” was a figure of speech for food in general.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, we are remembering the ancient story of the Israelites who were in the dessert – physically and spiritually – when God provided manna, or bread, from heaven. Each day manna was provided for the people; but just enough manna for that day. The day before the Sabbath, the amount of manna was doubled so that they would have enough for two days and could rest on the Sabbath.

When we pray “give us this day our daily bread”, we are asking for what we need physically and spiritually to make it through the day:
• Food
• Shelter
• Safety
• Health
• Justice
• A feeling of wholeness
These are what we need to make it through the day. Give us our daily bread. Our traditional word from the Gospel of John speaks to this prayer.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35

If you look on the prayer wheel in your bulletin and the highlighted portion for this week, you will notice that the second ring has the word “fortitude”. It flows naturally from the first ring. A prayer for fortitude – or strength – comes right after the prayer for sustenance. Give us strength to face the day.

Your church staff meets on Tuesday morning to go over calendars and coordinate our work. We had a regular meeting last Tuesday, although it might have gone a bit long because we took time to plan some extra things. If you had been a mouse in the corner when we finished, however, you might have had a good laugh. Each of us stood and almost in unison we stretched or yawned or took time to straighten our aching backs! You would have thought we had been sitting in the chairs for 5 hours and that we were 110 years old! After talking about our work we each knew it was time to start doing the work.

I’m sure there are some days that you roll over in bed and hit the snooze on the alarm. “Just 10 more minutes”, you may bargain with the cosmos. Or you are dreading a task and in your car at the stop light on the way, your mind does a quick calculation of whether you can go the opposite direction. Those are the moments you need the prayer “Give me daily bread and fortitude!” “Give me the stuff I need to make it through the day!”

The next ring on the prayer wheel was difficult for me this week while I was praying. It notes something in Jesus’ life… and it’s part of the Apostle’s Creed… that Jesus “descended into hell” after his death. I don’t take that as a literal statement of reality. I don’t necessarily believe that the spirit of Jesus actually went to hell. In fact, I’m rather agnostic about hell as a real, physical place.

As I thought about this during my meditation time, however, I realized that when we are praying for strength to get through a day, it sometimes seems like we have descended into hell. I can name a few times in my life when I felt like I was living through – or in – hell.

When we were touring the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, we were told that Michelangelo painted the face of the bishop on one of the demonic characters. It turns out that Biagio da Cesena (who was a papal messenger), said of Michelangelo’s painting, “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully,” and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather “for the public baths and taverns,” Michelangelo worked Cesena’s face into the scene as the judge of the underworld complete with donkey ears representing foolishness while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It is said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain! Can you imagine having a “descent into hell” that was captured on a famous painting preserved for centuries?

When we feel as if we have descended into hell, it is important for us to remember to pray for strength. This is when I think our Biblical witness is incredibly wise. The prayer of Jesus and the story of the manna in the desert remind us that we are only to pray for a day’s worth of bread… just enough to get us through. The 10 step program does the same: one day at a time. When we look at our desperate situations, it becomes overwhelming. The prayer wheel teaches us that we are to handle only what we can in a short amount of time and leave the rest to God. We pray for daily bread, for daily strength, and that we will only be in the deepest hell of life for a short period.

Once we have encountered a dire need or a deep, dark night of the soul, we are even more attuned to others who are left out of the good our lives have to offer. The next rung of the prayer wheel is 2 beatitudes: “hunger for justice” and “be filled”. The prayer wheel starts this week with a prayer for bread and ends with a beatitude comparing justice to hunger. There’s a blessing, Jesus says, when we hunger after justice and provision for all who are deprived and oppressed. When our needs get met, the needs of the world are more apparent.

I don’t know if you know the song by Haile Steinfield “I didn’t know that I was starving until I tasted you”. Here are part of the lyrics…
I didn’t know that I was starving until I tasted you.
The more I know you the more I want to.
Something inside me has changed.
I was so much younger yesterday.
Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo,
I didn’t know that I was starving till I tasted you.

We live in a world that is starving for love and doesn’t even know it. Mother Theresa said “loneliness is the leprosy of modern society” – we live in a very lonely world. A world of gated communities. A world where most of us will never have had our next door neighbors inside our houses and where many people will never have had anyone inside their house.

Father Thompson wrote: “The reason baking fresh bread sells a house is we are physical people. Physical things affect us. I have had you high five, shake hands and squeeze the shoulders of the people next to you. Little bits of human touch like that release a hormone called Oxytocin – the so called cuddle hormone – that lowers are heart rate and makes us healthier. And yet in our lonely society there are people particularly elderly people who will not have received any human touch for days or weeks on end.”

Friends, we are called to bake bread – not to sell our houses – but to bake bread for a hungry, lonely, starved world. That’s what the prayer wheel taught me this week. When I pray “Give us daily bread”, I’m praying for strength and help for myself and I am praying that I can participate in offering strength and help to others so that we can all get through the day together.

I didn’t know I was starving until I tasted that kind of bread.

Resources Used:
“The Prayer Wheel” by Patton Dodd, Jana Riess, and David Van Biema. Convergent Books, 2018.

news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1406808. “Michelangelo’s secret message in the Sistine Chapel?” June 5, 2010.

Piper, John. “Bethlehem: House of Bread”. April 28, 1981. www.desiringgod.org/articles/bethlehem-house-of-bread
Thompson, Fr. Mund Cargill. “I Didn’t Know That I Was Starving Until I Tasted You”. June 18, 2017. www.sermoncentral.com