“OUR” – September 5, 2021

A Meditation on the First Word of the Lord’s Prayer
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Pugh

I always was a scrapper. I took up my fists first to defend my siblings, because sometimes times were tough at home. But being a scrapper, I often got it wrong, sometimes giving the opposite of what they needed. Sometimes I hurt them. 

Then there was a day when I took up my fists against my neighbor. We had been playing, down amongst the fish docks, where the barrels of rotting fish were, and somehow the play flipped into a fight, and kids were stuffing dead pogies inside my pants.  I got so angry that I could not move for a moment, and then all movement of the earth surged in me. I was like an electric fan with a broken lid. 

In an hour it was over, and they brought Patti Wallace to apologize to me. Perhaps she was one of the ones who had stuffed the fish in my clothes. We did not really know each other. She put out her hand to shake mine, but I looked at my own hand and then I hit her hard, on her face. 

I was dirt, these dripping fish scales and eyes and bits of filth. I was shame, this stinking body, this hurting hand. I ran, my sense of Patti’s face hurting and everything hurting and smelling bad.

After that it was a blur. I do not remember how I got the fish out of my clothes. I do not remember seeing the neighbors again, the ones who brought Patti to me. I did not hear if Patti’s face was ok.

The habit of scrapping took me to other stinking places after that one. It took me to garbage heaps in the fights for justice, but also piles of despair in eating disorders and addictions. Finally, it took me to a circle, where I joined together with other scrappers who had found themselves in other despairs and found that community and prayer could help a lot. Together and with God we slowly opened our hands, showed the soft parts of them. Together we reached to Christ, who opened a soft hand for us too, in the midst of his own suffering. 

I cleaned my hands. It took me a quarter-century. My scrapping gave way to speaking. I found my voice. I found I was connected to other people, other creatures, other parts of the world. We prayed the “Our Father.” I found that the “Our” was the most important part of that holy prayer for me, that we were in community, we were one group, a part of God: we were children and fish and sea and land, and we were together. 

In the scripture that we read today, we hear Jesus offering this prayer when people ask him how to pray. He says “Abwoon D’bwash Maya” in Aramaic–which literally means oh heavenly birther of the entire universe—this idea that we are all born of the goodness that begets us. 

I am so glad for that, that heavenly gift, out of the brilliant mind that was Jesus’ mind: OUR is the first word of our holy prayer. Sometimes you only need that one word. This whole week I have been meditating with just that one sound, OUR, on my knees, cherishing the sound and the truth in it, and sometimes when you bend your knees and speak that holy word, even as it goes from Abwoon d’bwash maya to OUR, it is still so holy, even in our own language. Sometimes it makes you tremble. Sometimes it makes you weep. And sometimes it makes you euphoric. We are part of the great OUR.   

Fifty years after that fight, I looked for Patti Wallace, trying to reach an open hand to her. I could not find her. Often at midnight when I cannot sleep, I turn on my face, ball up my hands under my hip joints and pray for Patti to be ok in her life.

Fifty years later, too, I have also asked the fish whose bodies were a part of that fight, I have asked them to forgive us. Their lives were wasted. Why would you kill one creature, just so you can use it as bait to kill another creature? And why would you fight with someone’s body? Pogie would rather stay alive in the sea, where they are the proud fish Menhaden: silvery things born in New England, drifting as larvae to the Chesapeake Bay, then migrating north and south in the Atlantic waters for the next ten years. 

It is true as you get old, if you are lucky, that you find yourself increasingly merged with the rest of life, with the earth and the animals and people, for me especially Patti Wallace and the fish. I pray, when I kneel down now, to gentle myself into a practice of connectivity. I pray to come together with the parts of the world that hurt me. I pray to come back to the people and things that I hurt: siblings, fish, Patti, my parents, so many. And I pray to understand my small space on the edge of this planet, here by the fish docks where the barrels of fish still stand in dripping rows. 

My scrapping separated me from all of that. But now, as I look at the scraps, they seem almost like a kaleidoscope, that something so wretched as a kid who fought her way through her childhood, whose pants were full of dead fish, could be redeemed, in the great “Our” that Jesus showed us how to say. 

Sometimes when I walk and meditate, I realize I got a second chance. Sometimes I see the edges of the circle, pushing out past the borders to include the unwanted ones. Sometimes I see that the circle includes all the creatures, all the death and life, all the rocks and stars. 

Scrappers or no, fish or living children, there is infinity in the world, and infinity beyond the world. 

In conclusion, I would like to sing the Circle Song—this song from Taproot, which I was a part of the singing of for 25 years—also about the great circle, which we get to be a part of, the great OUR, which is this day, this life, this faith, this breath.

Feel it getting nearer, my little sister

See it getting clearer, my sweet brother

I can hear the whisper of my dear mother

The circle keeps growin’ strong

Welcome stranger, drawn to the fire

There is no danger, no desire

Far from danger flames getting higher

The circle keeps growing strong 

Celebrate the living sing hosanna 

Hallelujah the circle is strong

Celebrate the living, sing to the morning

Hallelujah the circle is strong 

Well now, if you hear the music, sisters and brothers

If you care to join us, we’ll sing together 

We can make a difference, now and forever 

The circle keeps growin’ strong 


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