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Although the story is told twice, once in Matthew and once in Luke, both versions amount to a single account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, the only such account in all scripture. No wonder they call this prayer “The Lord’s Prayer”.

Over the course of two millennia, this very short collection of words has maintained an amazing appeal. Even people who are not Christians, or who are not even religiously inclined, often know it by heart. What is it about this prayer that makes it so unique and so captivating?

Well, many things, of course! But I want to focus on one that is often overlooked: The Lord’s Prayer is a “hologram” or, to be more precise and more technically accurate, a “fractal” (fractals are the mathematical objects behind holograms).

What is a fractal? In layman’s terms it is a self-similar pattern. When you see a fractal you see a certain pattern. If you zoom in to see just a small portion of the fractal up close…you see the same pattern. Zoom in again, same pattern; zoom back out, same. The fractal reproduces itself infinitely at every scale.

When a fractal is used to generate a hologram, the fractal pattern is encoded onto a piece to film. Under proper circumstances, shining a laser beam through the film creates a 3D ‘holographic’ image.

Now here’s the cool part. Cut the film vertically and horizontally so that you’re left with 4 pieces. Now throw away three and shine your light through the one remaining. Voila…same image, nothing missing!

Or is something missing? It is the same image, no doubt. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the image is little bit less detailed. The whole image is still present, but it’s just not quite as clear.

What in the world does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer? Well, check out the text:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil.

The Lord’s Prayer tells a pretty clear and simple story about God’s majesty and power, about our dependence on God and about our hope for a better life on earth and in eternity. In some ways, it sums up all prayer!

But look at the prayer more closely. It’s made up of just 8 lines and those lines are grouped into 4 couplets, each one a complete sentence. Now look even closer: the entire message of the prayer is completely contained in each of those 4 couplets. The prayer is a fractal (or hologram).

The first couplet tells us that we are related to God as we are to a father. But unlike our biological fathers, this father transcends the world of space and time. This father is “in heaven”. Heaven is what we call that aspect of reality that is beyond space and time…that is eternal.

Even though God is beyond space and time, He has a name. In today’s world, names are not terribly important. But in the ancient world, names were everything. If you knew a person’s name, you knew his place in society, his function in the world.

What is God’s name? In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is “I AM”; later he tells him that his name is also “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” God’s name is what God is for us, how God shows himself to us in our world.

In the New Testament, God’s name is simply, “Abba, father.”

God’s name is “hallowed” (which means holy). What is holy is good or does good or produces good. In our world, in his relationship with us, God is always good. Therefore his name is holy.

So God is supreme (heaven) but caring (father) and always good (hallowed). Now zoom in a little closer:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Heaven is the Kingdom of God. Now we pray that that kingdom will come onto earth. When God’s will is done, then the kingdom has come. And when the kingdom has come, earth and heaven are one.

Do you see how this is really the same message as before? What we call God’s “will” here is what we called his “name” before. It is how God operates in our world and in our lives. It is how God is good, does good, produces good. It is how God is holy. But in the first couplet, God’s role is somewhat abstract (name); in the second couplet, God’s role (will) is more concrete.

Don’t stop now! Keep zooming:

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Now we are as concrete as we can be. We’ve moved from God’s ‘will’ in general to what God wills in particular. What is it that God wills? First, the satisfaction of all of our needs! When the kingdom comes, everyone (us) will get what is needed (bread) whenever it is needed (daily). This is universal justice. This is God’s will for his creatures.

Notice that the couplet does not refer to an equal distribution of income or wealth. That is outside the scope of this theology. What The Lord’s Prayer does demand is that everyone’s real human needs be met.

In Theory of Justice, John Rawls makes a similar argument. Justice requires political equality and a generous safety net; beyond that, invention, competition and enterprise may be allowed to operate freely.

What else can we say about God’s kingdom? All of our mistakes, our sins (trespasses) will be forgiven, not just by God but by each and every man and woman (as we forgive). We are God’s essential partners in this enterprise. To forgive a trespass is to de-fang it, to take away its power over us. This is essential for the reign of mercy, which is peace. Peace too is God’s will for his creatures.

Justice (bread) and peace (forgiveness) are the indelible defining characteristics of God’s kingdom. When our needs are met and a state of peace characterizes our relations with others, our personal freedom is optimized and we are empowered to “be all that we can be”. We are our full potential. The kingdom of heaven is earth…with its potential fully realized.

Now zoom in even further!

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil.

It is nice to say, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done,” but it’s not as easy as that, is it? Sure, we want to do the will of God. Well, most of us do, most of the time, but often we don’t. We succumb to temptation and do what is contrary to God’s will (evil).

St. Paul said it best, “I do not do what I want but I do what I hate…I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom. 7: 15 -19)

Evil is the absence of good. If justice (bread) and peace (mercy) are good, then it is the absence (or opposite) of justice and peace that is evil. Injustice and conflict inhibit our existential freedom and undermine the realization of our potential.

Brief and local flashes of justice and peace prove that the Kingdom of God is already “among us” (Luke 17: 21b); but the more general absence of justice and peace in the world proves that the heaven and earth are not yet one.

It is not enough to affirm the values of justice and peace or to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” It is necessary also to reject the enticements of evil. A close friend of mine once said, “Virtue is not virtue unless vice is tempting. You get little credit for doing a righteous deed unless you simultaneously overcome an inclination to do otherwise.”

Monogamy is no virtue unless one is tempted to commit adultery. Honesty is no virtue unless one is tempted by material wealth. Where our strongest inclination to do evil lies, there also lies our greatest opportunity to manifest earth-transforming good.

The passive acceptance of God’s values is not sufficient to transform earth into God’s kingdom; it does not generate enough intensity. In fact, it doesn’t generate any intensity at all. Absent the lure of evil, acquiescence to the will of God is nothing but inertia and inertia is not an event.

The real events that constitute our lives involve reaching for God’s values and pulling them toward us at the same time as we push opposing values away from us. Our appetite for good and our aversion for evil, our choice of one option and our rejection of all others: this what constitutes an event, this is what transforms the world.

Pulling on God’s values gives us the leverage we need to push away the alternatives and pushing away the alternatives gives us the leverage we need to hold fast to God. There is no such thing as passively doing God’s will.

This is the meaning of Grace: God’s values, actively appropriated by us, are the source of our ability to reject evil. They are our strength. To be transformative, the acceptance of God’s values must be accompanied the active rejection of their polar opposites. And so we pray, “deliver us from evil”; and before that, “lead us not into temptation”.

“Deliver us from evil” is the mirror image of “thy kingdom come” and “lead us not into temptation” is the mirror image of “thy will be done”. Like the other three couplets, the final couplet of the Lord’s Prayer reflects the pattern of the entire prayer; only the orientation is reversed. We are looking at the same process but from the other side.

Truth to tell, that reversal of orientation began when we prayed “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. When we forgive, we don’t just embrace God’s value of peace; we actively reject the lure of vengeance and resentment and retribution. That can be a lot to give up!

Temptation is the inclination to appropriate the world’s goods (economic and otherwise) for ourselves at the expense of another’s right to “daily bread” (justice) or the inclination to exploit or harm another in a way that violates human solidarity or the solidarity of all creation (peace).

Temptation specifically concerns behaviors that undermine justice and peace. Here, the Lord’s Prayer is reaching all the way back to the Ten Commandments:

“Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Thou shalt not desire your neighbor’s house or field, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Deut. 5: 21)

Violations of the 9th or 10th commandments (above) undermine pea (wife) and justice (house et al.).

Here is where free will, or more generally, the absolute freedom of the created world, comes into play. To realize the Kingdom of God on earth, it is not enough just to embrace what is good (justice & peace); it is also necessary to reject what is evil. If the world is not a level playing field, if the choice between good and evil is not terrifyingly real, then the game is rigged and the coming of the Kingdom is not a real event; it is just the final unfolding of a result that was already implicit in the rules of the game itself. Salvation cannot be an algorithm!

When a Las Vegas casino fleeces a guest, it is not a feat of skill or virtue; it is simply a matter of mathematics…odds. The game of salvation cannot be like that. We must freely choose God over the glittering alternatives and our choice must be real and it must matter. That is the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

A fractal is a mathematical object. As such it is infinite. No matter how deeply you dive into the pattern, the same pattern remains. Because the Lord’s Prayer is composed of words and phrases, there is a limit to the depth of our dive. In this essay I have pointed out that the prayer is a fractal down to the level of its 4 component verses. Could it also be a fractal down to the level of its 8 component lines? Try it and see for yourself.

So what? Why is any of this important? Most of the messages we encounter in our lives are linear. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They follow the pattern of narrative or of argument. They depend on space-time and/or logic and, as such, they instantiate and reinforce both.

Not so the Lord’s Prayer. This message is radically non-linear. It follows the pattern of the eternal. As a hologram, it instantiates and reinforces eternity: “on earth as it is in heaven”.

There is no temporal or logical progression in the Lord’s Prayer. The entire message is a single ‘quantum’ of meaning. That quantum is always true, everywhere, in every universe of discourse.

Whole ontologies has been built on the idea that there are infinite gulfs separating transcendent God from the kingdom of heaven, separating heaven from the daily events of earthly life, and separating those mundane events from the ultimate spiritual struggle against evil. The Lord’s Prayer challenges that notion head on! There are no infinite gulfs; in fact, there are no gulfs at all. It all happens altogether in one place and at one time, which is to say at all places and at all times.

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Parmenides, spoke of a way of truth (aletheia) and a way of appearance (doxa). The later is the domain of variety and change, space and time; the former concerns what is uniform and eternal. Most messages concern Doxa; the Lord’s Prayer concerns Aletheia.

There is one single thing that is always true on every scale and in every universe of discourse and that one thing is expressed, whole and entire, in every one of the 8 lines that constitute this prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a hologram…and that makes all the difference in the world!


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