Our Father in Aramaic

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 

UnknownFortunately 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!


abwoon01aSo, 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




This guest blog by Judy Talvaccia* is adapted from Judy’s article in the newsletter of the Holy Child Associates, USA. Judy responds to a reflection about the spirit of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ), the congregation started by Cornelia Connelly  cc_round (http://www.mayfieldsenior.org/about/Cornelia-Connelly), of which Judy is an Associate — and I am a member. Readers will relate to her experiences with ecospirituality and also find enrichment for understanding Pope Francis’ enclyclical Laudato Si. 

The SHCJ Charism 

A charism is defined as “a specific grace, a free gift granted for the common good, for building up the Body and Kingdom of Christ in love.” Our wildly generous God gives an abundance of gifts to individuals and to communities – all in the service of bringing about the fullness of God’s reign of love.

The gift given to Cornelia, and through her to the SHCJ and to us, lies in the name Society of the Holy Child Jesus. The Incarnation roots and grounds us in the merciful God who became human as a vulnerable child. Through the Holy Child, we understand that nothing is too humble or hidden for divinity not to be present and active. The charism helps us to see God in the most unexpected people, places and things and to respond to the sacred presence we recognize.

Early Religious Education 

mary-baby-jesusMy religious education began in the pre-Vatican II Church. I learned  that the Incarnation was “God the Father sending his son down from heaven to save human beings from our sins.” In my experience, the focus of the Incarnation was on the person; that is, Jesus became human to free me and all human beings from the consequences of sin. That resonated with me since, from a very young age, I was sensitive to the needs of others and fascinated by what makes people tick, what makes them who they are.

I loved learning about other cultures – how different people can be and yet how much we have in common. That may be part of the reason why the charism of the SHCJ attracted me. It spoke to something very deep in me about finding God in anyone and everyone. I learned, as the article says, that “…nothing truly human is foreign.” Although I enjoyed and appreciated the non-human world, my passion was always people.

Creation Spirituality 

The recent insights of science and of creation spirituality have deeply challenged my lived experience of the Incarnation. My head tells me that much of what I am learning makes perfect sense. But try as I might, I don’t feel as passionate about ecological projects as I do about, for example, supporting children in the Dominican Republic. Even so, God has been drawing me slowly but surely towards a more expansive understanding of the Incarnation.

Two thoughts in the article spoke to me about the strategy God seems to be using in my spiritual journey. The idea that we have responsibility, not just for humans, but for “all that touches the human” has ignited my curiosity about what those things are and how they affect people. God is showing me that if I want to support people, I cannot do it without supporting the natural world.

But God draws me even deeper to see that “the expansion of our very selves, as well as of all creation are inextricably intertwined.” I am realizing that humans need to support the well being of the natural world for its own sake as well, if Love’s reign is to be accomplished. All of God’s creation needs to flourish!

 The Cosmic Christ 

The biggest stumbling block for me, however, is the concept of the Cosmic Christ weepingmotherofgodofthesignatnovgorod– the Christ who came to save the entire universe, the Christ whose Body includes all of creation. I believe in the resurrected Christ, living and active, but my image of him is still the man portrayed in the Gospels. I don’t want to give up a personal relationship with Jesus! I can’t relate to him as a disembodied cosmic force.

Fortunately, Jesus has been patiently teaching me and drawing me closer to his resurrected life. When I traveled to the Holy Land, I was struck by the commercialism of many of the pilgrim sites. It was hard at times to identify with Jesus in his life on this earth, in the face of so many distractions. I complained in prayer, “Why did I come here if I can’t be immersed in what your earthly life was like?” Jesus directed my attention to the reality around me as if to say, “I’m happy that you came to the land where I lived, but I also want you to see me as I exist today – in the people, places and things around you; this is my Body today!” Since then, I have become more aware of the risen Christ who lives and acts in all of creation. And to my surprise, the more I do that, the closer I feel to Jesus and to the God he embodies.

OroValleyWildFlowersOf course, it’s still a challenge – sometimes in the most unexpected ways. I was on retreat and walking along a beautiful country road. Wild flowers were in bloom everywhere. While admiring them, I thought about how Christ is present in each of them. But I could feel my spirit resist. “I don’t want a relationship with a flower petal when I want to be close to you, Jesus.” With sublime irony, Jesus responded to my spirit, “Don’t you experience a deeply personal connection with me in the Eucharistic bread and wine?” Touché!

Embracing the Unfolding Mystery 

So I willingly and joyfully, but with a hint of trepidation, join the Sisters in “embracing on a fresh level the mystery of Incarnation and Creation as united revelation of the greatness and goodness and Allness of God.” I am grateful for the confidence to respond generously to God’s invitation; to explore new facets of the Incarnation with trust that God is leading me to fuller life and love. I commit myself to be one of the “ones chosen now to make known the reality of the Incarnation ever being revealed and newly understood.”
Cake 1-3

*Judy Talvacchia is a chaplain and spiritual director in Boston, MA.

If you relate to Judy’s experiences, please share in Comments.

About Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudato si”

Pope_Francis_receives_a_gift_of_a_bas_relief_of_St_Therese_of_Lisieux_from_journalist_Caroline_Pigozzi_of_Paris_Match_Jan_15_2015_Credit_Alan_Holdren_CNA_6_1_15WHEN: The Pope’s highly anticipated first encyclical is expected to be published June 18th, 2015.

TITLE: The title is “Laudato Si” (Be Praised or Praised Be), from St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation praising elements of creation and naming them as kin. (How prescient for one untaught in modern science!) Users of my Advent and Lent resources have found quotes from this prayer on most cover pages. See the entire prayer below.

Pope Francis’ encyclical is also expected to be given the Italian subtitle: “Sulla cura della casa comune” (On the care of the common home).

IMPORTANCE: “Laudato si” will set a key ethical framework for discussion and policies surrounding climate change ahead of the Pope’s address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on September 24 and his address to the United Nations Special Summit on Sustainable Development Sept. 25.

The Pope’s words will set the moral standard for everyone concerned about climate change, the issue that affects all living beings. He is sure to link Scripture references, care of the poor, and religious responsibility to act to protect creation. Media coverage has already been extensive, with articles and reports both pro and con.


Among the resources for those wishing to explore the Pope’s encyclical are these two:

  • In keeping with the Lent material I have been writing since 2004, I shall provide a 5-session program – “Praised be: On the care of the common home” — for those who wish to integrate Lent’s 2016 Scripture readings and the encyclical. It will be available free by November 1st: http://ecospiritualityresources.com/lent.
  • RENEW International, GreenFaith, and Catholic Climate Covenant are collaborating to produce an in-depth 12-session resource available in English and Spanish this fall: http://www.renewintl.org/renew/index.nsf/vPages/. I highly recommend this resource.

Canticle of Creation  

O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God, to you belong praise, glory, honor and all blessing.

sunshine_Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation and especially for our Brother Sun, who brings us the day and the light; he is strong and shines magnificently.  O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and for the stars  which you have set shining and lovely in the heavens.

Be praised, my Lord, for our Brothers Wind and Air and every kind of weather   by which you, Lord, uphold life in all your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure.

burning candle isolated on black backgroundBe praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom you give us light in the darkness: he is bright and lively and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Earth, our Mother, who nourishes us and sustains us, bringing forth fruits and vegetables of many kinds and flowers of many colors.

Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of you; and for those who bear sickness and weakness in peace and patience — you will grant them a crown.

Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death, whom we must all face.

I praise and bless you, Lord, and I give thanks to you, and I will serve you in all humility.