At the end of my seventh-grade year, I took a cross country road trip with my grandparents. They had come out to visit my family in Marysville and attend my brother’s high school graduation. After Aaron’s big event, I climbed into the cab of Grandpa Casey’s old pickup and we began our journey east. Our destination: the Kansas City suburbs where I would stay with my cousins for a month.

Grandpa was a professional truck driver; in his career, he had traveled every mile of interstate in the continental US. After retiring, he avoided freeways. When he traveled for personal reasons, he stuck to state highways and back roads. Our drive to Missouri was post-retirement so it was a long trip of narrow roads, small towns, and empty spaces. Somewhere between Yakima and Walla Walla, I discovered that Grandpa did not have air-conditioning in his truck and I slowly realized that his definition of adventure was vastly different than mine.

Every stretch of road was a blur after the heat of Eastern Washington’s scablands. From Rocky Mountains, to Colorado plateaus, through the Midwest prairies and cornfields, it all blended into one seamless landscape of unmemorable blah. By the time we arrived in Weston, I felt as if I had arrived in the Emerald City after an overheated and torturous long stroll down the Yellow Brick Road.

We had one overnight stop between my home and my cousins. Grandma and Grandpa got a nondescript hotel room for the three of us in the middle of nowhere. The next morning, I learned a new fact about my grandparents. They were early risers, but I was already familiar with that aspect of their personalities. For as long as I can remember, their sunrise phone calls would wake up the Casey household every Saturday morning. There was another habit that was a part of my grandparent's marriage that I had never seen before. Every morning, after they awoke, they would kneel at the foot of their bed and recite the Lord’s Prayer.

That one morning in a podunk motel room, they invited me (insisted really) to join along. It is embarrassing to admit, but I mumbled my way through because I had yet to memorize that prayer. I could quote all the lyrics from REM’s Losing My Religion, but when it came to the most famous prayer in recorded history, I was lost after “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

Never before had I felt like such a bad Christian. My dad was a pastor for the first few years of my life. I had grown up in the church. We were the kind of family that attended worship services three times a week, only skipping for the grimmest illness. How had I managed to survive 13 years of life without fully learning the Lord’s Prayer?

Twenty-five years later, rest assured I now have those bible verses memorized. Although maybe not word for word. When I say it now, it’s more of an amalgamation of the King James and New International versions, seasoned with phrasings from The Message and children’s story books. When I quote scripture, it’s usually from the NIV – Nic’s Interpreted Version. Yet, to be honest, I still didn’t completely commit this passage to memory until I was in my early twenties and taking a class studying Koine Greek and biblical translation. Even then, it wasn’t a matter of rote memorization for some good Christian merit badge. It was part of a quest to understand scripture the way the original authors intended.

I’m still in that pursuit, learning more and more the older I get. Even as I approach mid-life, there are still discoveries inside the text, plainly obvious yet unnoticed until now. Or, at least, unnoticed by me. I’m sure my ideas are unoriginal in the full history of Christian academia, but these are still explosive revelations in my own personal studies. My most recent ah-ha moment was within the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Actually, within the first word of the prayer: Our.

So many times, when we pray, we start with “Dear God, it’s me,” followed by some Ben Stiller awkwardness like saying grace in Meet the Parents, throwing in some song lyrics because we don’t know what to say, then we make it more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps Jesus knew we would resort to fumbling prose if left to our own devices and that’s why he taught his disciples how to pray. Not necessarily as a command “It must be said just like this, without deviation,” but more of a blueprint to guide what we construct. The Lord’s Prayer is a skeleton, bare bones to which we give flesh when we talk with God.

In the New Testament Greek, the prayer begins with two words, Πάτερ (or Pater, meaning Father) and ἡμῶν (or hēmōn, meaning ours or of us). Translating into modern English, we say “Our Father,” which gives us a good understanding of how Jesus wanted us to see God. It isn’t just “Father of mine.” That doesn’t work unless you’re Art Alexakis. It is “Father of US.” The word ἡμῶν is a possessive and plural pronoun. When Jesus delivered his instruction on prayer, he wanted us to know we are not alone. We are not spoiled little brats refusing to share. My God is more than just my God, He is yours too. And theirs. And ours.

We see this pronoun used repeatedly throughout the prayer. Give US OUR bread. Forgive OUR debts. As WE forgive. Lead US. Deliver US. We are in this together. By teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus was also encouraging them to embrace each other. It is as if Jesus was telling them “To follow me is a joint venture. You’re better together.” When I read the Lord’s Prayer now, I am reminded that my faith is not a hero’s journey; it is a communal experience. No more am I thinking about what happens when I pray, but instead what happens when WE pray.

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