The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father
By Wesley Hill
Lexham Press, pp. 144, $15.99

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Review by Christopher Yoder

It is the prayer for all seasons — the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus gave his disciples. The prayer for every day, feast days and fasts, as long as the earth endures, “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night” (Gen. 8:22). The prayer for births and baptism. The prayer “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, and in health.” The prayer for hospital beds and hospice. The prayer you pray when you do not know how to pray, when words fail you, when you are standing at the grave of the one you loved. The prayer for every day of the pilgrimage of your life.

To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to embark on a journey, a journey with Jesus into the depths of the divine life. Wesley Hill has written a sturdy, little guidebook to light the way. He does so by showing how “the Lord’s Prayer is first and foremost about Jesus Himself,” how the prayer invites you into communion with the Lord. Here’s how Hill expresses it:

We are tagalongs, you might say, taking advantage of the closeness Jesus enjoys with His Father. As the prophet Zechariah long ago predicted, people “from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Indeed, God is with Jesus, and we do grasp our older brother’s garment, begging him to take us with him to the Father. And he does.

The Lord Jesus gives his disciples this prayer that they might follow him, and he leads them where he has already been. Thus, for example, “Jesus has already gone into the furnace’s fiery depths and, by His redemptive alchemy, transformed its hellish flames into burnishing purifiers.” And this is a recurring theme of Hill’s book: that the Lord’s Prayer finds its fulfillment in Christ.

The passage quoted above (“We are tagalongs, etc.”) is characteristic in a couple of ways. First, it’s a good example of how Holy Scripture has shaped Hill’s imagination. One of the great strengths of this book is that it is written by a man who knows and loves the Word of God. Second, the passage also displays Hill’s sensitivity to feminist critiques of patriarchal language for God. Throughout, Hill deliberately capitalizes divine pronouns in order to flag the inadequacy of our categories to God. He offers a nuanced defense of calling God “Father” at the end of Chapter 1. And there are other ways in which Hill is alert to the concerns of our age (see especially his discussion of what it means to pray, “Lead us not into temptation”).

Hill ends his book with a brief meditation on how Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son (and Henri Nouwen’s meditation on it) has changed the way he prays the Lord’s Prayer. This “coda” adapts a piece originally published on the Covenant blog. (Hill is a regular contributor to Covenant.) It’s a fitting conclusion to this lovely book. It makes you want “to find yourself praying [the Lord’s Prayer] in a way you hope never to stop.”

Such should be the end of all teaching on the Lord’s Prayer, teaching that forms a central part of Christian catechesis. Hill’s reliable guide to the Lord’s Prayer is a solid addition to the long tradition of commentaries on the prayer stretching back to Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen. It’s a tradition to which Anglicans have made many worthy contributions (as can be seen in an anthology like Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness), in part because the prayer book names learning the Lord’s Prayer (along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments) as necessary for Christian formation, as one of the “things which a Christian ought to know and believe, to his soul’s health.”

Hill’s guide would work well as part of a parochial course of preparation for baptism and/or confirmation for adults, or as the curriculum for, say, a 10-week small group discussion series. The length of the book makes it accessible even to those with little margin to read: with less than 100 pages of actual text, the whole book could easily be read in an evening, or a discussion group could just as easily read a chapter (each is roughly 10 pages) together and then discuss it in one sitting. And this is a reliable guide: thoroughly rooted and grounded in Scripture, consonant with tradition and practices of the Church, attuned to the questions of the day, and centered on the Lord Jesus. A guide that might even change the way you pray this Prayer of Prayers, this prayer for the whole of your life.

The Rev. Christopher Yoder is rector of All Souls,’ Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.