Nobody really likes the word “hallow.” It’s an old word and there’s no contemporary equivalent. Essentially it means sacred, holy, separate. The line in the Lord’s Prayer that reads “hallowed be thy name” means that God’s name (and therefore, God himself) is to be the most uniquely valued one in all the world.
There’s a subtle subversion taking place within us as we pray this line. The human reality is that we all hallow something. It might be a person, a job, your image, money, your reputation, or your sexual appeal. There aren’t two kinds of people in the world: hallowers and non-hallowers. There is only one kind: the hallower, the worshiper.
There aren’t two kinds of people in the world: hallowers and non-hallowers. There is only one kind: the hallower, the worshiper.
The plain fact is that most prayers spoken or thought by most humans tend to fall in the category of asking God to hallow what we hallow. Most of our supplications are focused on things we want that we don’t have or things we have that we don’t want.
I recognize in myself a dangerous habit: I’m not immune to making career, kids, health, and romance into the most desirable, important thing in my life. I’m liable to hallow them. And so, if I’m not careful, my well-intentioned extemporaneous prayers will run counter to the prayer Christ taught us.
God knows that if we give anything other than him the place of ultimate value, we’ll flounder and perish in shame and heartbreak. Therefore, in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, he insists we cannot pray to him as an intimate, immanent Father unless we also value and worship him as transcendent Lord.
Choosing Half a God
Now, most people either can’t or won’t do this. We choose the gentle, intimate God who’s always there to listen, but balk at his transcendence and majesty. And so he becomes our therapist. But that kind of relationship is marked by affection without respect. And when we don’t respect God, we feel free to reject his commands the way we feel free to reject the advice of our therapists (as we so often do).
Others of us choose the transcendence of God. We choose the all-powerful, almighty, sovereign God. We smirk at those who talk about God as a lover, dismissing them as soft, emotional, theological lightweights. We admire God from afar and we do not, cannot, experience intimacy with God because, in our heart of hearts, we fear him—and fear eventually turns into resentment.
Mature Christian prayer is having the boldness to walk into the temple of the sovereign God as if you were walking into your parents’ living room. It’s having the respect to know you shouldn’t lead with a whiny wishlist and yet having the level of comfort to know it’s perfectly appropriate for you to begin with “Good morning, Dad.” How could anyone have that kind of audacity and intimacy?
Immanence + Transcendence = Incarnation
We can have it because of the One teaching us to pray. In Jesus, God’s immanence and transcendence meet and become one. If we were to use a math equation, we might say: Immanence + Transcendence = Incarnation.
Mature Christian prayer is having the boldness to walk into the temple of the sovereign God as if you were walking into your parents’ living room.
In Jesus, the holy, alien otherness of God comes near, not to strike fear into our hearts or to judge us but rather to give himself for us—to die for us—so we can approach God as Father and hallow him above everything else.
If all this feels a bit ethereal, you’re not alone. This is why God has given his people the sacraments (as we call them in the Anglican tradition), so we might have a tangible means of engaging this mystery.
Subversive Beauty of Bread and Wine
This is what makes the worship of the church not only a little different but the complete inverse of all other forms of worship:
- Instead of bringing our offerings, we receive Christ’s offering.
- Instead of sacrificing to our God, our God sacrifices for us.
- Instead of worshiping something that will consume us, we worship a God who invites us to consume him.
What a beautiful, arresting mystery! It should stop us dead in our tracks. Whenever we see a loaf of bread and cup of wine on a communion table, we should be dumbstruck. I can hardly believe this is how much God loves us . . . it’s beautiful.
Remaining the Church in the Wilderness
With these words in our hearts, we begin to imagine we live in a wilderness where God isn’t just available to comfort us but is of such beauty and value that he transcends every good thing in our lives and becomes our ultimate good. We’re lovestruck, enraptured. We begin to subjectively believe what’s already objectively true: God has brought his holiness near to us in Jesus. We may begin to embody the gospel—words transforming our imaginations and desires that, in turn, transform our actions.
If God is my Father, what is there to fear? Certainly not pandemics, or liberals, or conservatives, or immigrants, or debt, or being alone, or any of the other myriad spooks that want me to cower in fear.
If God is hallowed above all else, what thing of ultimate value could be taken from me? Nothing.
With these words on our lips and minds and hearts, our lives begin to take on the kind of courage and confidence that’s only possible for a true child of God.
This article is adapted from Liturgy in the Wilderness: How the Lord’s Prayer Shapes the Imagination of the Church in a Secular Age by D. J. Marotta (Moody, October 2022).