I confess: my least favorite English prayer-phrase — Our Father who art in heaven — is from the very prayer that Jesus taught us: the Our Father. But I would have liked the Aramaic version Jesus undoubtedly used. The English translation comes from a time when people did not question patriarchy or a three-tiered world, and I don’t live there any more. In my experience, people can KNOW that “God is everywhere,” but they still look up when they refer to “him” because we are conditioned to picture a man in the sky. Keeping God above creation makes it harder for people, e.g., to understand Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si’: “We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him.” (72)
About the language Jesus used
Fortunately for me and others like Shirley Favot,* who delight in knowing that the language Jesus used harmonizes with the world as science now understands it, Neil Douglas-Klotz published Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus (Harper & Row, 1990). He not only explains what the original Aramaic words mean, but explains the levels of meaning in the Aramaic language itself. He lets readers see the words written in Aramaic, he gives directions for saying them, and he offers suggestions for appropriate body prayers.
Douglas-Klotz tells us that each statement of sacred teaching must be examined from at least three points of view: the intellectual, the metaphorical, and the universal (or mystical). His phrase by phrase commentaries on the Our Father and the Beatitudes provide this rich fare. A very new question for me, when I read it shortly after its publication, was “What feelings do the sounds evoke?” He explains that body-resonance was important for those who first heard Jesus’ words.
I was/am especially grateful for his explanation of “heaven” (which I included in Tuning to the Divine: http://ecospiritualityresources.com/media/). “ ‘Heaven’ ” in Aramaic ceases to be a metaphysical concept and presents the image of ‘light and sound shining through all creation.’ ” Wow!
So, if that’s what “heaven” meant to Jesus and his followers, what about the “Father” to whom he prayed? As he does with the others phrases, Douglas-Klotz offers a litany of possible translations. I appreciate them because I have long believed that, despite the advantages of using the metaphor “Father” for the un-nameable Mystery, its exclusive use contributes to anthropocentrism and to patriarchy/male dominance.
Additionally, using any one word exclusively for the unknowable can fool believers into thinking that they have captured the essence of the Mystery we also call God. This deprives believers of many other possibilities. Douglas-Klotz uses the following when translating Abwoon from the Aramaic: Birther, Mother-Father, The Breathing Life of All, Source of Sound, Radiant One, Name of Names, Wordless Action, Silent Potency. While this list might not immediately appeal, trying other names — either to balance “Father” or to replace it temporarily — is sure to expand one’s understanding of the Holy One.
One Aramaic translation of the Our Father
What follows is the translation of the Our Father (KJV ) as found in Neil Douglas-Klotz’ Desert Wisdom: A Nomad’s Guide to Life’s Big Questions from the Heart of the Native Middle East (2010, ARC Books, www.abwoon.org), with gracious permission from the author:
O Breathing Life (Aramaic)
(an expanded, then condensed translation of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4 from the Peshitta version of the Gospels)
O Breathing Life, your name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your presence here.
Envision your “I Can” now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our source,
yet free us from not being in the present.
From you arises every vision, power and song
from gathering to gathering.
Amen—May our future actions grow from here!
*Shirley Favot, who lives in Canada, wrote: “I thought your website would be the perfect place to honour the deep story and to reclaim the “Aramaic Our Father” for us and for future generations . . . Jesus’ message of ‘The Companionship of Empowerment’ is so clear and hope-filled.” Since July 1st is Canada Day, I decided to post this for Shirley on that date.
Shirley first read the Aramaic Our Father on Diamuid O’Murchu’s web site under “Prayers”: http://www.diarmuid13.com/special-prayers. Neil Douglas-Klotz’ site is http://l.facebook.com/l/KAQHekVw4AQFX17J2pkuxfWJmCGZ5BeApUiwDsTlSk5d3Lg/www.abwoon.com