Rich Paxson

In the Discussion Forum of this unit, answer the following question: How does praying the Our Father prepare you to hear an unheard voice speaking to you?

I’m the lector every Sunday morning at St. John’s eight o’clock service, a ministry I enjoy. I always try to be open to the feelings of each character, whether prophet or apostle, in the morning’s text. How are their feelings informing the narrative? What tone of voice would best express the feelings adequately, accurately?

Recently, I read a transcript of a talk James gave in 2007 in Mexico City titled: “Strong Protagonism and Weak Presence: The changes in tone of the voice of God.” James opened his talk by analyzing how best to interpret the use of the word “so” in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world …” One interpretation focuses the verse’s energy on the intensity of God’s love for humankind. Another interpretation looks not at the intensity but at the nature of God’s presence. James uses the second interpretation, a consideration of the nature of God’s presence, to inform the rest of his talk.

I think “strong protagonism and weak presence” might be a good way to think about the relationship between the ‘unheard voice’ and the Our Father because I’m just not completely sure about the connection between the unheard voice and the Our Father. You’d think by this time in our Forgiving Victim course I’d have that all figured out. But I don’t. I have some of the pieces of the puzzle. For example, God’s ever-present love, which is active protagonism. But, God’s love often seems hidden, like the feelings I look for behind the words I read as St. John’s Sunday lector. For example, I read the prophets, not in stentorian tones, but nevertheless forcefully, to carry the quiet voice of God’s longing as it informs the Hebrew scriptures.

As we pray the Our Father each Sunday, I think of it as a kind of poetic-liturgy allowing worshippers to reflect on God’s strong protagonism but weak presence. We remember that God forgives us as we forgive others; that God’s presence is constant, but hallowed; that is, it comes and goes. This prayer-poem brings the Divine voice to earth, but, it’s not we who decide whether we listen to it or not. We can know God’s still voice only as we acknowledge God’s strong protagonism inhabiting us personally in our fiery temptations, in our smelly desires, which, left to our own devices, are mimetic realities drowning out the unheard voice of God’s redemptive power.

God’s Unheard Voice of quickening love inhabits us always, even when we forget God and ignore Neighbor. Through the quiet voice behind its written words, the Our Father teaches how we are inextricably bound together, God and humanity, knowledge which becomes present only with God’s help.