For most people of faith, religion is more than a philosophical discussion. And for most, “God is the God of religion only when He is our God and we can speak to Him.” Rabbi Leo Baeck wrote those words. He ministered to Jews imprisoned in Theresienstadt before they were shipped to Nazi death camps. He also wrote that “The deeper God’s love [is] felt, the more human [is] its form of expression…One cannot pray in concepts; one cannot hope in definitions and in the abstract.”
When we reach out, in prayer, to the God Whom Baeck calls the God of religion—the God Who is our God—our prayers reflect our intimate relationship with God. We pray to God Who is always here and everywhere, the God Who is with us in all places and at all times, the God Who is as close to us as our own breath. When we pray, we talk to God without any need to catch God up on what’s happened in our lives (unlike a friend we’re meeting for coffee). We talk to God without preamble, sure that God has traveled with us every minute of the day, aware of our thoughts, our worries, our triumphs. We lift our voices to God Who’s been with us at every step, and Who is still here, right now. We lift our voices to God, the most intimate of intimates.
The Christian Reformer, Martin Luther found it significant that Jesus called God, not Father, but Abba, the Aramaic word for Daddy (see Mark 14:36). For Luther, the Lord’s Prayer might rightly be prayed like this: “Our Daddy, Who art in Heaven… “
At one time, English-speakers had pronouns that captured the intimacy we bring to prayer—Thou, Thee, Thine. These pronouns disappeared in the 17th century, folded, for good or for ill, into the formal pronouns, You, You, Yours. However, European languages like French, Spanish, and German retain the informal, intimate pronouns English-speakers have lost. Prayers in those languages show the tender and personal way in which people of faith often speak to God. The informality of these pronouns underscore how we presume a personal God whenever we turn to God with trust and openness.
This prayer (lightly edited) appeared on a poster in the Cathedral of St. Denis. It was written by Brother Roger; until Brother Roger was murdered in 2007, he led a Christian ecumenical community in Taize, France, that is dedicated to peaceful reconciliation. Rabbi Baeck and Brother Roger had very different Gods but they could have prayed this prayer together. The Naked Theologian’s English translation appears below the original. Note the words “toi”, “tu” and “te” in the French version—these are pronouns used when speaking to close friends, loved ones, and children.
Toi, [Dieu], tu vois qui je suis,
j’ai besoin de ne rien te cacher
de mon cœur, tu m’accueilles avec
mes peines et mes inquiétudes
tu comprends tout de moi.
Thou, [God], Thou seest whom I am,
I need not hide anything from Thee
of my heart, Thou welcomest me with
my sorrows and my worries
Thou understandeth all about me.
Baeck taught that we have faith in God before we have thoughts about God. What do you say when you pray? The way you talk to God may be different from the way you think about God. Listen in on yourself—see what you think.
Shall we close with the Hebrew word for “so be it”? Let’s. Amen.
References: Albert H. Friedlander, Leo Baeck: Teacher of Theresienstadt (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1991), 80-1.