My friend Nicola Slee—poet, practical theologian, and shaper of honest and beautiful words for prayer—has been working on turnings of the Prayer of Jesus (“Lord’s Prayer,” “Our Father”) for a book that will follow up her work on praying “like a woman”—out of her own experience and body—and with images of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Christa, female depictions of Christ—of which there are enough in the Christian tradition to surprise and startle some people (See Nicola Slee, Praying Like a Woman, The Book of Mary, and Seeking the Risen Christa, all London: SPCK, 2004, 2007, and 2011 respectively). Her first turnings of the Prayer of Jesus are about to be published in an article “Getting God in Poetry and Prayer” in Modern Believing 59.3 (July 2018): pages 211-219.
With Nicola’s permission, here are two of the three reworkings that can be found with Nicola’s commentary in the new Modern Believing. The first is closest to the well-known version, though undoes patriarchal symbols with feminist intent:
Abba, amma: source from whom I came.
I reverence your name.
Your child indeed,
I pray you to meet my need
from your bountiful store:
neither less nor more.
I confess my greed, the way I feed
my desires which then inflate my need,
blotting out care of the self and awareness of the other –
my sister, father, mother, brother.
Out of the largesse of your grace,
give us all a place
at your overflowing table.
Feed us, that we may become able
to quieten our own hungers,
attend to others, both near ones and strangers.
May we so linger in love
at your banquet – no hurry to move –
until we are filled with your joy
rising within and between us – pure, unalloyed.
The second draws on Psalms, Song of Songs, desert saints and wilderness images to articulate how even a sense of divine absence might lure us into God’s otherness:
You are the one who has gone a long way from me.
You left the city with its passageways and thoroughfares
towards the secret spaces of the desert crevices.
I hunger for your presence as a pelican in the wilderness.
I have paced the dark streets of my memories
searching for the signs of your kindness.
You have taken yourself away from me.
Only the lingering scent of your fragrance is suspended
in the air, as the moon, a huge pale orb –
luminous with an absence
more terrible than the presence
of an army of lovers.
Thank you, Nicola.
Nicola Slee is director of Research at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, UK, and Professor of Feminist Practical Theology at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is also Visiting Professor at the University of Chester, UK, Honorary Vice-President of WATCH (Women and the Church) and Vice-Chair of BIAPT (British and Irish Association of Practical Theology).
THE QUEEN’S FOUNDATION: http://www.queens.ac.uk
MODERN BELIEVING: http://www.modernchurch.org.uk/modern-believing
(Image: Birmingham Cathedral Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/birmingham.cathedral ).