Not a Fan of the Lord’s Prayer

By Zan Eisley 02/17/13

Why I’m not comfortable asking “Our Father” to deliver us from evil.

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I don’t like The Lord’s Prayer. In fact, every time I hear, “After a moment of silence for the person who is still suffering, will so-and-so please lead us in the Lord’s Prayer,” I feel a nearly uncontrollable urge to bolt out of a meeting like I’m late for the most crucial appointment of my life.

This is not a new feeling or a recent discovery; it’s been with me every time I’ve heard someone start The Lord’s Prayer since I was dragged to my very first meeting at the age of 17. In some bizarre way, I find it sort of comforting that with all the seismic shifts I’ve experienced in recovery, my antipathy for and trepidation about The Lord’s Prayer have remained utterly consistent.

Why don’t I like it? Well, to begin with it is a Christian prayer and while I have no argument with Christianity and no issues with Christians in general, I am not one. I also think it scares the hell out of atheists and agnostics (again, I’m not one). Twelve-step literature clearly states that it is not a religious program and that you may choose to believe in any Higher Power you wish (as long as it’s not you). It thus seems fairly hypocritical to then “suggest” we all join hands and say “Our Father.”

When I attempted to explain my issues with the prayer to my first sponsor, she sounded irritated and insisted that I “hit my knees” first thing in the morning in addition to holding hands with complete strangers and reciting The Lord’s Prayer with gusto at every meeting. (I found my second sponsor shortly afterwards.)

I was raised Jewish and not Jew-ish—more like my grandfather was an Orthodox Rabbi. We kept kosher—and not kosher like “Oh, I don’t eat bacon.” Kosher like we don’t mix milk with meat, we don’t eat shellfish and we have two entirely separate sets of dishes, silverware, and glasses. Jewish like WE DON’T “HIT OUR KNEES!”   

Over the years, I’ve tried to like The Lord’s Prayer. I’ve tried to fake liking it. I’ve even tried to get educated on it in an attempt to embrace it. 

When I was 11 years old and caught up in the multi-culti zeitgeist that had just begun to infiltrate public schools—we spent at least an hour studying other cultures and religions—I was ready to experience Christianity in the trenches. Any religion that didn’t require eight hours a week of Hebrew school or an endless rehashing of the Holocaust seemed both exotic and exciting. So when my best friend extended an invitation to attend services with her family, I was off to church with such enthusiasm you would have thought there was heroin hidden in the pews. I can’t remember much about that day in church—except for the moment when people got on their knees. Having no idea what to do, I panicked. One of the very first things you are taught in Hebrew school is that Jews don’t pray on their knees but I was 11 and a budding addict, which means that I was convinced that every single person in that packed church was watching me. So I got on my knees—and a rush of intense shame washed over me. I swore to myself that I would never tell another living being what I had done and I didn’t. I went home that day and lied to my family and it remained one of a million “deep dark secrets I would take to my grave” until I read my first fourth step and my sponsor just laughed. Magically, like so many things I’ve kept secret in my life, that act and the lie that followed no longer had any power. It became just another funny story.

Over the years, I’ve tried to like The Lord’s Prayer. I’ve tried to fake liking it. I’ve even tried to get educated on it in an attempt to embrace it. 

When I was nine months sober and blithely unaware that I was completely out of my mind, I went out and found a boyfriend who had 14 years of sobriety. He loved The Lord’s Prayer and couldn’t help but notice that I had a habit of going to the bathroom during the announcements, which coincidentally came just before the prayer. He suggested that I read Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount and dared me not to fall madly in love with him and The Lord’s Prayer (yeah, I was embarrassed for him too). I read Sermon on the Mount cover to cover. Thinking that I may have missed something, I attempted to read H. Emilie Cady’s Finding the Christ in Ourselves. That didn’t go well. The only thing I can recall of my spiritual book journey was learning that Jesus had written The Lord’s Prayer as a sort of template to teach his followers how to pray. “See!” I recall the boyfriend exclaiming. “It’s no big deal! It’s not really even Christian.”

My response was not very Christ-like. “CHRIST WROTE IT TO TEACH HIS FOLLOWERS HOW TO PRAY! CHRIST!” I bellowed. “Everything he did was Christian!  He was Christ!” I didn’t fall in love with The Lord’s Prayer or the guy.

In October of 2004, an issue of The Grapevine reprinted an article from about an alcoholic who conducted an informal Internet survey of AA members around the world on which prayers they recited at meetings and why. Sober Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, Native Americans, atheists, and pagans from North America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa responded.

This survey showed that most groups in non-Christian parts of the world, particularly in India and Asian countries, used The Serenity Prayer and not The Lord’s Prayer to close their meetings. A recovering alcoholic in Bangalore, India reported that The Serenity Prayer had been translated into eight Indian languages and was used in most meetings attended by Hindus and Buddhists. Some Japanese language groups even modified The Serenity Prayer to omit the word “God.” Even in primarily Christian countries like Australia and New Zealand, The Serenity Prayer was more common than The Lord’s Prayer. 

While I always figured I wasn’t alone in my dislike of The Lord’s Prayer, I had no idea that I had stumbled into a protracted cold war until I ran a Google search on Alcoholics Anonymous and The Lord’s Prayer and discovered more than 2,600,000 results. I even found a 1959 letter from Bill W. defending the recitation of the prayer in meetings since “it does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding our light under a bushel.”

I’m certainly not the only sober person to feel uneasy about The Lord’s Prayer. My friend Kate, who’s 27, been sober for nearly a year-and-a-half and was raised Greek Orthodox, feels similarly uncomfortable but for different reasons. “I’ve found the language of the prayer frightening since I was a child,” she says. “It was all about death and temptation and trespasses! It gave me nightmares. The first time I heard it in a meeting, I tried to say it but I realized that it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, when everyone in the meeting is saying it, I just recite the Serenity Prayer in my head, space out or listen to the words and think about how much I don’t like it.”

We are, of course, under no obligation to recite The Lord’s Prayer at meetings. 

I think Kate’s got the right idea; we are, of course, under no obligation to recite The Lord’s Prayer at meetings. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, among other books, has said, “It's true that The Lord's Prayer fits equally across all the Abrahamic traditions…Nevertheless, Jews do not say this prayer. If a Jew attends an AA meeting where it is recited, he does not have to leave, but he should not recite it along with them.”

Of course, not everyone who’s uncomfortable with the prayer is going to be satisfied just sitting it out. I recently learned of a man in New York with 45 years of sobriety who has posted on his website a manifesto entitled A Proposal To Eliminate The Lord's Prayer From A.A. Meetings. Apparently, he’s been trying to get The Lord’s Prayer out of Alcoholics Anonymous since 1976. While I admire his passion, I just don’t have that kind of time to devote to the issue.

I no longer run out of meetings to avoid the prayer. Out of respect to Alcoholics Anonymous, I stand, hold hands with other members and silently pray my own prayer. To say that this is a small price to pay in exchange for the life I’ve been given would be an appalling understatement. It’s a pittance! Still, I must admit that every once in awhile, just before someone says, “Our Father,” I’ll look across at my friend whom I know feels even more strongly than I about the issue and exchange the combination eye-roll/head shake and half-smile.

We can do that. We are both standing there in that room alive and sober.

Zan Eisley is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in a number of publications including LA Weekly and Thought Catalogue. This is her first piece for The Fix.

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