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How to Live—and Pray—the Lord’s Prayer

Finding the fullness of our faith through both words and actions

Living the Lord's Prayer
Credit: Getty Images
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Saturdays I often volunteer at our church’s soup kitchen. These days, since the pandemic, we’ve been handing out a hot meal and a bag of food outside. My job is serving up cups of hot coffee. “Cheaper than Starbuck’s,” I like to tell the guests. Free, in fact!

One Saturday, feeling pretty exhausted, I realized, “This is prayer, too.” I start my mornings sitting on the couch, eyes closed, opening up to the Spirit, and then reading a few psalms while I eat my oatmeal…but service is prayer, too.

As the letter of James in the Bible puts it, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers…” Our faith expresses itself both vertically (gazing heavenward) and horizontally (serving the coffee). Here’s how I try to integrate them both in prayer, using the Lord’s Prayer as a template:

Our Father who art in heaven. Volunteer work can be taxing. For me, it’s back and forth, getting more coffee, handing out creamers and sugar, refilling the urn, fetching more cups, but it’s also fatiguing empathetically. 

I’m dealing with people who have so little, and it makes me realize how I have so much. What I have to remember, again and again, is what we have in common. As one of the guests said, gesturing to the very sidewalk, “This is a God place.” God’s love sustaining us all.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Would that I were a real saint! Almost every Saturday, I grow impatient over something. How many cups of coffee have I already given you? I ask myself about some guest or Do you really need that much sugar? about another.

How quickly I forget what a boon a free cup—or a few free cups—of coffee mean to them in their vulnerable and fragile living situations. I hear my unworthy thoughts and seek God’s forgiveness. For me and for them.

Give us this day our daily bread. I love how the words that Jesus gave us in this prayer are in the first-person plural, not singular. Not just my daily bread but our daily bread. 

At our church’s Saturday Kitchen, we are giving many people their daily bread. The number of guests has more than doubled since the pandemic. But it’s not just an us-giving-to-them universe. We are getting back necessary spiritual sustenance.

Thy kingdom come. Our guests come from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures speaking a variety of languages. One Sunday a Chinese guest—with little English—insisted on giving me an envelope.

Inside was a brochure about a sainted Chinese man I’d never heard of, Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei (1901-2000). This Catholic bishop was a courageous witness to his faith during turbulent times, spending 32 and a half years in a Chinese prison. When finally released, he spent his last years in America.

The guest was sharing with me another glimpse of God’s kingdom on earth, a piece of history I knew nothing of. A prayer we silently shared.

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