Rev. Dr. Rebecca Pugh
My friends Yael and Sherri got married during the pandemic. It was a zoom affair mostly, with a rabbi in a big open space and the two of them, and their relatives in 9 states and 17 countries, including a beloved aunt and uncle in Israel, up in the middle of the night zooming from their living room, he in a bow tie and she in a silk dress, dressed for a wedding, with a plate of beautiful food in their hands.
Sherri is Canadian and this was her first time back in the states since they got married a year ago. They decided to have a few of us over to their porch, and I mean a few, like four of us, lined up eight feet apart, out in the wind, outdoors. In Canada, people don’t get together yet. So they were not used to it. And Sherry kept going inside to get things, kept standing up and sitting down and getting back up again. She was worried about the pandemic. And you could see she was trying to reset, to enjoy these lovely people who loved them and hadn’t seen them.
And then someone’s phone rang. And Sherri, to everyone’s huge surprise, put her hands up in the air and started dancing to the ring tone, to the phone, as if it were an Israeli folk dance. She looked amazing, and Yael started dancing too. They were dancing, joyful, in the heat of the pandemic, to the music the universe had given them. It was a cell phone. And they made it into a symphony with their dance. The rest of us, lined up on the porch, all started smiling.
And then Yael pulled out a recording of a young adult team of a capella singers in Korea, the group May Tree, who arranged a whole bunch of ring tones to sing a capella. They made us all laugh out loud. And Sherri danced again.
At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, if you go back to the Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus would have said it in, it goes like this: Abwoon d’Bwash Maya! The closest translation back to English is Oh Birther! Oh Father mother of the cosmos. You create all that moves in light.
Jean Chandler, of Old Cambridge Baptist Church, tells it this way: ABWOON comes from the ALAHA = Aramaic word for God. It is the absolute, the oneness and unity, the source of all power. WOON = Birthing, creating, blessing flowing from the interior of this oneness towards us. OO = precursor to the Aramaic word for holy spirit: the wind, the electricity, the energy, the magnetism, the sound of breathing. SHMAYA = the radiance that is everywhere in the universe, the Aramaic concept of heaven, complete and eternal.
Our great womb of goodness, birthing, creating, blessing, flowing, like wind, electricity, magnetism, shimmering in the radiance of every part of the world, which to us is heaven: this is the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer if you say it in Aramaic.
In other words, it is all of this: the oneness and unity that was later translated into Greek as Hemon, into Latin as Noster, which we translated to English as Our. We are all together, one, unified, every creature, as we preached last week.
Jim Finley is a mystic, and one of my teachers in this two year program I am in through the Living School, at the Franciscan Center for Action and Contemplation run by Father Richard Rohr (it has been remote since we began, but I am hoping I do get to meet him one day). He is writing a new book about the spirituality of healing, and he gave us a preview. He tells this story from the desert fathers and mothers.
The desert fathers and mothers went to the wilderness to undergo a martyrdom, to die to all that hindered them from experiencing the mystical dimensions of the promises of Christ. One day a family went out into the desert, to look for them, and knocked on the door of the hermitage. They had brought their daughter, they said, because an evil wizard had turned her into a donkey. The hermit invited them in, asked them to sit to one side, and asked the daughter if she would like something to eat. She said yes, she would. And so the hermit began making food for her, and talking with her, asking questions about what mattered to her, attending to what she liked. As she sat and ate, the hermit sat down with her and listened to her with sincere affection, attention, kindness. When the parents saw this energetic focus and love for their daughter, they were glad. The way Jim Finley says it, “Their eyes were opened.”
They realized that their daughter was not a donkey. They were mistaken about that. They realized that the evil wizard had put a spell on them instead, leading them to believe that their daughter was a donkey. They tearfully embraced their daughter. As they left, they expressed their gratitude for what had happened. And the daughter was grateful too. For you can see how difficult it can be, when you parents think an evil wizard has turned you into a donkey. It is especially hard when you fall into the suffering that flows on when you believe you are the donkey your parents see in you. Once you fall into shame, it is a long journey back up again.
The promises Jesus brought forward in the Lord’s Prayer is one good way back. Starting with the Abwoon Bhawash Maya, it is a nice way back. Because we see how we are folded in the creative participation of joy in the universe, beloved and blessed and held. And we see that every one of us has this. And we go on to see heaven itself, which is energetic electricity and connectivity all around us. And we too can pray that prayer: Abwoon, Abwoon: creation, universe, universal love, wind, breath, holy spirit, womb, love, perfect love, unconditional love.
I am hearing from my Protestant friends and my Catholic friends that this is confusing, to think of the Our Father as a miracle of healing and ecstatic overcoming of obstacles. I don’t think many of you who grew up Protestant would think of the Lord’s Prayer as a freeing chance to participate in heaven when you see it sparking all around you. I think those of you who grew up Protestant might be thinking instead that your religion said you are supposed to take responsibility for all the troubles of the world, feel guilty about them all, and try to fix them, one by one on a great list. I don’t think many of you who grew up Catholic would think of The Lord’s Prayer as an invitation to dance when you hear beautiful music. What I hear from my Catholic friends, instead, is that the Lord’s Prayer was a punishment after confession, it was your penance. You would be supposed to say 3 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Fathers. But I invite you all, especially the folks who grew up Protestant, especially the folks who grew up Catholic, to set aside the punishing parts of your earlier life. Pick up your soul. And dance into this wash of contemplative bliss: the part of heaven, electricity, power, and the part of generation: creativity, sharing, celebration, and the part of connectivity: seeing our people, our children, our enemies, our martyrs, ourselves, with new eyes. No longer seeing ourselves as a donkey. No longer seeing our enemies as hated. No longer seeing a noise as an interruption. Getting a nice meal cooked for us by a desert father. Getting a dance tune when we least expect it. And being listened to. This is the Abwoon Bhawash Maya. This is the Creator healer womb of heaven spirit of electricity and connectivity and life.
The Lord’s Prayer, as I look at it today, is instructions to ecstatic dance. It is the chance to celebrate the greatness of the womb of being, the sparks in the universe, the heavenly unity when we say B’washmaya. I say to you, this is a very different image of God. This is not God as this old bearded guy but God as the Lord of the Dance. This is God as the Lady of the Universe. This is an invitation to see the world with sacred eyes, to know creatures and people for their shimmering radiance: children, not donkeys, and donkeys, not stones, and stones, not trash, and ourselves, not someone else. The Heavenly One is within us. Heaven is all around us.
In conclusion, I am going to sing a song about the radiance of creation, written by Beethoven many years ago. Joyful, joyful, we adore thee…