Neville Ward on “The Lord’s Prayer”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 — Week of 5 Easter

Dame Julian of Norwich, c. 1517

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 963)

Psalms 61, 62 (morning) // 68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (evening)

Leviticus 16:20-34

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 6:7-15

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

The late J. Neville Ward was an early influence on me. He was an English Methodist who wrote wonderfully insightful books on prayer and spirituality. He had an annual practice to read a different book about the Lord’s Prayer every year, and in 1981 he published his own reflections — The Personal Faith of Jesus: As Revealed in the Lord’s Prayer.

I flipped through some of the book this morning, noting a few of my underlines:

There is a sense in which everyone has faith, and everyone behaves quiet loyally and consistently with what he believes, that is to say, what he believes about himself and life. That faith, hugely important as it is, is not the sort that can be or ever is set out in a creed and spoken aloud in some ceremonial rite for all to hear. It is part of the inner life of the mind, the drift of secret thoughts whose precise character we are not sharp enough always to note but whose atmosphere we are breathing all the time.

…If we secretly believe that there is nothing much about us, that we have nothing the world particularly needs, perhaps in some dark moment that we are empty things, the odds are that we shall be driven by the need to fill our emptiness somehow. We may go though a stretch of our lives in which in one way or another we are on the make, anxiously seeking some advantage or success or recognition.

If, however, deep within where it matters, we believe that we live within the love of God, that he has created us to fulfill some part of his purpose, that he is himself within us as the ability to do or enjoy or endure what comes, we are likely to have a much more relaxed time of it. If we find life worth while we shall not need to consider the question whether we ourselves are; we shall find it rather a pointless question. As a result there will probably be enough courage in our response to life for us to be reasonably outgoing and honest.

What we really believe is the all-important matter. This is why if we want to change the way we react to evens and people, it is not much use attempting to control this directly. …The requirement for that kind of change is a change of inner faith, a new set of convictions about oneself and life, about the possibilities and the prospects.

In the Christian tradition the classical example of this process is in St. Paul’s journey of faith. As I understand him he seems to say that having tried hard enough to control his behaviour, only to make himself miserable with failure, he came into an entirely new range of possibility when he changed his convictions about the sort of thing God wants from us.

When he accepted Jesus’ view that God wants us to embark on a relationship of trust and love with him instead of a struggle to improve ourselves, a new response to life began to form in him. (p. 15-16)

[Jesus] was certainly drawn to the weak and sensual and broken who know it and long to see life changed into something that will make up for the wasted years, and to those who wait for someone in whose presence they can put down a tremendous burden they have been carrying all their lives. (p. 33)

Grant us now, this very day, the sense of that holy day when all will be satisfied with that which alone truly meets human desire and need. Grant us here and now the joy and affection of that time, and its sense of God, as much as it is possible for them to be enjoyed here and now and by people like us. (p. 51)

Not long ago I read of a boy who was murdered while doing his morning paper route. How can his parents think compassionately about the man who murdered their son? Never, without God. Yet there does not seem to be much hope for us unless they can manage it. Their fury must increase unless they, their son, his attacker, are called into some new kind of life in which people look mercifully at one another, refreshed by understanding. Glimpses of such a life come. The trouble is that they vanish too. It sometimes seems that a thousand eucharists, a thousand Our Fathers have left us much as we were.

…What matters is that as a result of the hundreds of eucharists, Lord’s Prayers, and many other experiences mulled over as best you can, you come to understand what it means to live life in the light cast on it by Jesus, and to live it with the new shadow you are trailing now you are in his light. (p. 70, 71)

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