The way we view God has some influence on the way we relate with God. Abraham’s persistence in pleading for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah seems to have fallen on the deaf ears of God. And Jesus taught his apostles to pray and to pray incessantly. If we take God to be our creator and that we depend on God for many things, then only can we see meaning in frequent prayer.
In this reflection I would like to be very careful not to use masculine or feminine words for God lest the gender activists raise hell with me; but where I cannot do otherwise I stick out my neck for chopping. After all I trust anyone reading this reflection will be merciful. Let us move on.
The English word ‘prayer’ can be translated as ‘asking’ in Karoninka and Wollof. In the thinking of the Karoninka, and to some extent the Jola, prayer is asking God to look after our needs: it may be a child is sick, or we need security as we go on a journey; maybe we are about to sow our rice or we need protection from the evil one as we take our children into the bush for initiation. In many situations we pray to God because we believe that God created us and that God will provide for our needs.
The first reading of today (Genesis 18: 20 – 32) shows how Abraham pleaded with God for the good of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. The situation reflects the then thinking of the Old Testament that serious sin is punishable by death. Abraham says to God, “Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner? Perhaps there are fifty just men in the town. Will you really overwhelm them?” Abraham began with the number 50, then came down to 45, 30, 20, 10…all the time he reduced the numbers and God promised not to destroy the towns if such a number of people are found to be just. When we read further we realise that at the end God destroyed the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, lot and his two daughters were spared. Life and good relations with God must continue.
The apostles of Jesus observed that John taught his followers to pray and so said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11: 1-13). In the prayer that Jesus taught his apostles the God who seemed to be far away is called “Our Father.” In today’s parlance we can say Jesus called God, his daddy. A daddy is close to the child and looks after his or her needs. This is not the experience of many in the world: some people do not know their fathers because they died before they became old enough; some marriages have broken and so daddy runs away from the responsibility of looking after his son or daughter; in other cases the so called daddy does not really care much.
One young man found to pray the “Our Father” because he found it difficult to relate with God as a Father. This was because his father was not really a daddy. He abandoned him with his mother since he was a child. He saw the care and love of his mother, and nothing from his father. “How can I call God my father?” It was very difficult. Let us not be carried away by the experience of the said young man. Can he call God “My Mother?”
Accepting God as our creator, the prayer goes on to indicate how we should revere the name of God. I know we do swear by the name of God. Sometimes we do what is good because we have used the name of God; other times after doing what is wrong we use the name of God to support or give credence to our ‘bad’ deeds. Since we should hold the name of God in high esteem, we should come under God as subjects. We surrender our lives and live under the direction of God. As our daddy, we beg God to provide for our daily needs: for some it is bread, and for the Karoninka and Jola rice is their daily need, Cherreh for the Serrer, etc.
Some refer to the ‘our father’ as a dangerous prayer because if God is to forgives us as we forgive others, some may carry along a heavy load of sins all through out their lives. This is because some people find it difficult to forgive others. Now let me stop for a while and think: “do I hold mercy from some people who have offended me? Putting it another way, I can ask myself whether I do forgive people as God forgives?
The “Our Father” continues to ask God not to expose us to the temptations of the evil one and “deliver us from all that is evil.” We are aware of the temptations to do what is not good, the bad that comes to us under the guise of good. It is through the help of God that we can overcome these temptations. However, the grace of God builds on nature. By this I mean that God completes our sincere, conscious effort to do what is good. Following this line of thinking we need to “wash our stomachs and God will wash our backs,” as the Mandinkas hold. Amen – so be it.
Now, how comfortable are you to call God your father or your mother? For me God is not my Father only or my mother alone, but my father and my mother. And so I should pray always, “I thank you Lord, with all my heart, you have heard the words of my mouth…I thank you for your faithfulness and love…The Lord is high, yet …looks on the lowly…You stretch out your hand and save me” (Psalm 137: 1-8). Amen.
by Fr. David Jimoh Jarju