This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

To breathe a prayer

Meghan Florian Florian

After I read Luke 11:1-13, I lit a candle for Eric Garner and his family. It was the only way I knew how to pray as news rolled in that the police officer who killed Garner will not go to trial.


The candle flickered, and I watched as my Twitter feed filled with heartbreak, outrage and cries for justice. Tweets rose into the air like prayers, making me pay attention, asking me to join them. Cellphone images of peaceful “die-in” protests in Grand Central Station and elsewhere reminded me of Jesus “praying in a certain place,” trying to show his disciples where to look, where to address their pleas, before he leaves them. Before he dies.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” they ask. Teach us to pray. Do tears and futile questions count as prayers, I wonder? Do protests, die-ins, or op-eds? I’d like to think so. Jesus gives us words to pray when we don’t have our own, but I confess I don’t always understand them: Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our sins, as we forgive others.

This last is especially resonant to me as a white person today: Forgive us.

(Garner, a black man, died after a white police officer put his neck in a chokehold.)

Forgive us. Even when I don’t understand these words, or don’t see what they accomplish, there is strange comfort in the way we recite them together in our churches, and with churches around the world.

I remember when, confused and culture-shocked while studying in Brazil as a divinity school student, my fellow travelers and I prayed the Lord’s Prayer together each in our own language, a strange cacophony of English and Portuguese, addressed to God as one voice.

I finally understood at least this much of what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray: We pray together.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” they ask. Ask, and it will be given to you, Jesus says — because of your persistence. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Persist. If a child asks for an egg, do you give her a scorpion? A snake instead of a fish?

“Lord, teach us to pray,” they ask, and he tries. But how do you pray when you can’t get the words out? How do you pray when you can’t breathe?

In John, Jesus prays for us. “I am asking on their behalf,” Jesus says. “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those who you gave me, because they are yours.”

How do you pray when you can’t breathe? When even the air that keeps you alive is denied when you ask for it, persistently? You cannot.

Knowing we are not of this world, we might choose to believe instead that the one who taught us to pray will carry on with or without our words. “All are yours, and yours are mine,” Jesus prays, “and I have been glorified in them.” Lord, teach us to pray.

How do you pray when you know the air you breathe is stolen? When each time you inhale and exhale you are reminded that while you will live to breathe many more breaths, others’ requests are answered with snakes and scorpions?

“Protect them in your name that you have given me,” Jesus prays, “so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Lord, teach us to pray. Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, and do not bring us to the time of trial. Lord, teach us to pray, and continue to pray for us.

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., works in the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity School. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.

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